Are Public Libraries Still Relevant?Do you think public libraries are still relevant? Here is jamie-wheeler's take on the eNotes blog.

Expert Answers
dymatsuoka eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I would agree that public libraries are still very relevant, and when I was teaching, I don't know what I would have done without them. I have long been a proponent of using picture books to teach concepts to middle and upper grade students, and have been able to create units on such topics as World War II and Peace and Justice, using a variety of the many well-written and content-meaty picture books (fiction and non-fiction) that have been written over the years. I found the public libraries to be most valuable in allowing me to get actual copies of the books I wanted, so that I could use them for a short time in the classroom. Near where I live, the County of Los Angeles Public Library System, City of Whittier Libraries, and Orange County Libraries, all have website capabilities so that I could request any book from any library in their systems, (Orange County has over 30 libraries, and LA between 80 and 100) and it would be delivered to the library closest to me as soon as it was available. As of a few years ago, this service was free of charge at LA and Whittier; Orange County charged a nominal fee of 25 cents per book requested. I am not sure if the charges, or lack thereof, have changed recently due to the budget situation.

All in all, I have found the public libraries invaluable in both my teaching experience and my own education (I recently did my masters' project on using picture books to teach concepts in social studies and history to "older" students). I think that the high technology, such as the internet, will never replace public libraries, but will instead allow everyone to become more aware of the treasures that they hold.

Noelle Thompson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As a teacher, as a mother, and as an avid reader, I have to say that I am so very happy that libraries ARE still relevant, ... at least they are in my world.

I'll never forget when I moved out of state and left my very first teaching job.  The local librarian actually purchased the book called This Fabulous Century and gave it to me!  Ha!  I had checked that darn book out so many times and used so many paper clips on its pages.  There was just no better book for connecting The Great Gatsby to the truth of the Roaring Twenties.  Great pictures.  Great history.  Couldn't get enough of it.

As a mom, both of my little children have benefited from the local storytime for preschool kids offered at most every branch of every local library in the country.  It's free.  It's fun for the kids.  It inspires them to read.  And, of course, as has already been mentioned, the idea of borrowing library books to delve into for a few weeks (until their "newness" wears off) is absolutely invaluable.  Further, there have been so many that we fell in love with so intensely that we ended up buying used copies anyway!

As a reader, I was really tired of buying all of these new books to read once and then stick on a shelf.  Now I try to be the first on the list when it's coming to the library.  **sigh** Except I waited too long for Tina Fey's Bossypants, ... and now I'm 28th on the list, darn it.  Although I love my Kindle, the one thing I HATE about it is that I can't check books out of the library with it!  (Should have bought the more expensive Nook.  *sigh*)

lmetcalf eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I can't imagine not being able to take my kids to the library!  There are so many great books for youngsters that they only want to read for a week -- I certainly can't and most people can't afford to be at the local bookstore that often.  Our library is ALWAYS busy, and I think it is valuable for my kids to see how many other people are involved in books and learning at the library.  Complete strangers are setting a good example.

I also think that while the Internet is an invaluable research tool, there is something more tangible about books.  What I think is especially important here is that the library's resources are housed by age/reading level.  My kindergartner can find an age appropriate book about frogs, but my 3rd grader can find a more sophisticated book about the same subject.  The Internet can be a hit or miss tool even for the best of adults, but teaching young children to sift through information quickly is a challenge.  The library is much more user-friendly.

Our library's collections and services are growing every month and I hope things continue that way.

Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Public libraries are more than relevant; they are essential, especially now when it is so easy to become isolated in cyberspace. In my community, the public library is far more than a place people go to read, research, or check out books to take home. It is a center of community activity, offering numerous programs for people of all ages--book talks, discussion groups, traveling exhibits, etc. By offering these opportunities, the library brings people together to get acquainted while they share their experiences and love of reading.

Our public library focuses a great deal on children, which I'm sure is true of many other libraries, offering numerous events and special programs to bring parents and children into the library together, a great service and community outreach. When a public library becomes a "fun place" while it opens up the world of books to a child, it is far more than relevant. It is an amazing resource that we should appreciate and support.

clairewait eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I would answer a resounding YES, YES, and YES.  I think they are still relevant everywhere, not just in poor areas.  I know this is true for a couple of reasons.  First, I'm often somewhere around 90th in the hold line for a popular book.  Some books have 10-15 in circulation and the line is still long.  Second, I still go to the library on a weekly basis, and it is full of the usual diverse crowd, from the homeless, to stay-at-home moms (many with plenty of money), to students, to the elderly, to businessmen and women.

I have been particularly involved more recently with the abundant activities offered for pre-school children at the library, which are all highly attended.  Libraries which keep up a wide selection of DVDs in addition to books and magazines will always have relevance in the world.  And though more and more places are offering free wi-fi, the library will always be a place for people to get connected to the internet for free.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Absolutely!  However, as others have noted, the concept of the library has changed markedly over the years, just as has the concept of what makes a book store.  Some states have what is known as a Virtual Library that affords students and adults access to all the libraries in the state.  This boon is invaluable as there are several good-sized universities that have a wealth of resources.

The libraries in the small towns are places where children have a number of learning activities in the summer, especially.  Many people enjoy reading magazines, etc. that they could not afford to subscribe to; in addition, there are book clubs, etc. Also, the library is often a sanctuary from the world "that is too much with us" as Wordsworth wrote.  There one is surrounded by the most beautiful furniture of all:  books.  For, the life within their pages dances through the air above. Indeed, many a person has relaxed and found quiet and comfort in a library.

scarletpimpernel eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Certainly, public libraries are still relevant. Every time that I enter my local library, it is busy. The computers with Internet access are almost always taken. From a teacher's standpoint, I know that many of my students depend on the local library. They use it for choice reading assignments, especially since our Media Center is limited by finances and standards as to what it can carry. Similarly, quite a few of my students need the public library to be able to complete assignments, whether it be for Internet access or for the use of programs that they don't have on their home computers or simply from a lack of enough computers in the house to serve working parents and more than one sibling.

I'm from a small town, but even our library branch has done an excellent job of being innovative in the services that they offer. Personally, I often check out a book from the library first to see if it is something that I would like to purchase.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I would argue that they're still relevant, especially in poorer areas of the country like where I live.  Now, whether they should still be 100% free (issue brought up in the blog), I don't know.

Libraries are relevant to my family.  They allow us to give our kids access to a lot of books that they will want to read once or twice.  It wouldn't be worth it to buy all of the books, so the library is very relevant for us in terms of kids' books.  They're also relevant to us, the parents.  We don't have a Kindle or a Nook and we wouldn't want to buy every book we read anyway.  Many more people in the community have less money than we do and don't even have the choice.

So public libraries are still relevant to us.  Should we pay (other than via our taxes)?  Maybe, but it would need to be on some sort of sliding scale because we can't have the library be closed off to the people who can't afford it -- they need it more than we do.

amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Absolutely!  When times are tough, it's much cheaper and easier to keep up with my reading habit at the library than to buy the books I want to read.  I lean toward buying for the books I'm studying and teaching...I am horrible about highlighting, underlining, and writing in the margins...but the books for pleasure, movies, audiobooks for long trips, and a warm/cool (depending on the weather) place to relax is absolutely necessary!  The library also provides internet service to those who can not afford internet or even a computer...this is a great resource for everything from school work to paying bills and getting taxes done.

Libraries also have amazing book clubs and activites for all ages, but especially for younger children during the summer and other school breaks. 

booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator
I do SO believe that public libraries are relevant today perhaps more than ever. Not everyone has a computer or the wherewithal to buy books on demand. The library provides a quiet place to do homework, group work, visit wit friends, and open any kind of book and see the world. It grabs the imagination of the young reader. And how exciting to see a shelf of books and not be sure where to begin. I remember this feeling of all things possible as I looked forward to an author opening the world to me. Old libraries smell of old books and squeaky floors remind me of the readers of years past who finger some of the spines I do. I LOVE the library and feel it offers so much to the young, esp. where books are gifts to the community. Good question!!
Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I love the library. It is a sanctuary and a buffet all in one place. When I need to, I can run in, find a specific selection, and check out quickly. When I"m able to, I can browse and bask in the collection of books about every possible thing I can imagine. The choice is mine. I love taking kids there; there's nothing like exploring the shelves for just the right resource or finding a critical article which agrees with you. When you can take the book with you to a table or a comfy chair and just read, there is an opportunity to tune out the world and immerse yourself in something beyond who and where you actually are. Libraries are practical places, but they are also places where some kinds of magic can happen.

jashley80 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

 I don't know how libraries would ever NOT be relevant... they are still a key resource for neighborhood children (and adults) to turn to for texts and information of all sorts. I argue that the library is perhaps more important for individuals who do not have internet services at home (and access to online research and readings), but they are equally valid for all persons because we do not all own every book at home nor have all knowledge of all texts. Plus, librarians are such priceless resources - they know what books to recommend, where to find information (in the library and on the web, too!), and knowledge of local resources and events.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I do agree that they are relevant. What is interesting though is that in Britain at least public libraries seem to be changing in terms of the services they offer. Now they focus on getting in a number of the best sellers and popular contemporary books that people are likely to want to take out, and you have to order other books that they might not have any more. Likewise they are branching out by offering internet and other services that were not in the original remit of libraries. So, I do think that libraries are thankfully here to stay, but I think it is the responsibility of us all to support them as best we can.

kiwi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As a school we use the National Public library to send us boxes of theme-based books to use in the classroom. our school library is small and theis facility allows us access to a huge number of teaching texts without having to purchase them. This is aside from the benefits of our rural town library which accommodates a diversity of patrons who may not easily access reading material. Libraries which explore and capitalise on advancing technology (our city library allows downloading of audiobooks on mp3) will certainly survive and are a vital part of culture.

teachertaylor eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I'm glad to hear this great support of public libraries, and of course I agree.  My husband and I visit the public library a couple times a week to borrow books--our house is already packed with books that we've purchased and we don't want to add to the collection.  Plus, our libraries offer many services that help build a sense of community in our towns.  Asking people to pay for libraries would limit access to information and this just isn't right.  It's a shame that libraries have become easy targets for politicians who want to close the purse strings.

rskardal eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I love my library. I will admit that the services offered by the library will likely change, but I think the mandate of the public library is still called for.

Libraries have begun to offer more than "just" shelves of books. Perhaps we should be thinking about what we will expect from libraries in the coming years. This TED talk might be useful as a starting place for that conversation.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are many people who still cannot afford books or a computer.  Libraries are also coming into the brave new world of technology by offering ebooks and other internet-based services.  The bottom line is that libraries are still a place to gather and enjoy the feel of books.  I do not agree that paper books are ever going to be extinct.  I can read whatever I want on a computer, but I still prefer a book.  I always will.  There is a magic to libraries that does not exist anywhere else.

trophyhunter1 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Public Libraries are absolutely relevant for those who feel that purchasing books is wasteful, both to the wallet and to the environment. That said, there are always people utilizing the computers in the library, it is a place for gathering, for tutoring and for senior citizens to get together for activities as well as young people. It is always fun purusing the stacks as you never know what gem you might discover.

howesk eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The library in my hometown is relevant more for the youth in the area than for adults. I think this is the reason libraries are needed. I know many adults who do not use libraries, but children who do not have their own finances to budget towards their reading habits need a place to get free access to books. Libraries also provide after school and summer educational programs for kids that are certainly worthwhile.

lrwilliams eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that public libraries are still and will remain relevant for a long time to come. In rural areas especially the role of the library may be changing in that it is more of a place for patrons to gather and use the available computers for research, but I know in our public library there are still a lot of books checked out also.

gagirl-291 | Student

Great answers to a very relevant question today. Libraries seem to be getting the ax in certain parts of the country--I heard that all libraries in Camden are to be closed, for instance. But aside from the fact that we should (and those of us who teach probably do) value libraries because we believe in universal literacy and an articulate population to shore up democracy, libraries are a haven of learning. As a child they were my favorite escape places--someone mentioned libraries as "sanctuaries"--exactly. But it was in libraries that I--and my children--discovered the marvelous worlds within the worlds of books. The old libraries, with their nooks and crannies and sink-into armchairs were perhaps the most hospitable, but even the newer ones, with the pervasive quiet and the feast of books and even other media--joy! we quickly came to know. Libraries were perfect places, too, for all kinds of interesting talks and presentations in which the community could freely take part. We may see changes as we move into digitized environments, but the library as gathering place, as common ground for lovers of knowledge, and as symbol of community life, I hope will never disappear.

saffia | Student

Definitely because it can double up as and effectively quiet place to study and a place to find revision or text books or just a book to read for yourself.

 I love having a library, but ebooks are taking over libraries,as my friend Henry says. I really hope libraries stick around but i do fear that in the future,with all the technology around and in production that they may not be around for much longer.

legalstudent | Student

Public libraries are extremely relevant to a broader group. Technological advances have made it more convenient for the total population to gain information faster and more conveniently through databases and computer accessibility to the Internet. More individuals are making use of the library systems on a daily basis. Ours is not only huge and quite new, they had to expand it more because it is open 7 days a week all day long and the crowds are like a "black Friday" sale. Not only that, Community activities are well attended and draw the community in a more cohesive fashion. The library has become even a better resource for the general public as a result. To [prove a point, we have two other libraries near by with the same type of activity. The general public is really supportive of the Libray System and uses it.

sophiaanyigor | Student

using a public library, is more effective as most of them if not all are very advanced in materials and books. there their are audio book, and even an e-library developement is present. private libraries are most time short in materials.

prashant86 | Student
Are Public Libraries Still Relevant?

Do you think public libraries are still relevant? Here is jamie-wheeler's take on the eNotes blog.

i think they are still relevant....

pmsantan | Student

Absolutely!  Public libraries are still very relevant.  I teach at a charter school where we don't have a building library.  We have a very small room where there are few books, organized in no particular way and not necessarily recently published!  Students need to have a place where they are able to experience reading and technology and public libraries are a great avenue for both.  How can we, as teachers, encourage children/students to read if we cannot, somehow, ensure that they have books and magazines available to them? 

Libraries also have amazing book clubs and activites for all ages, especially for younger children who should experience literacy prior to starting kindergarten.  Libraries also provide children (and adults) with a place to go for educational activities during the summer and other school breaks.


tradecraft | Student

Yes, they are still relevant but they are becoming less relevant. As technology increases there is a real chance that libraries will one day be a thing of the past. I can see a virtual library becoming relevant and replacing the "physical" library!