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

27 Answers

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Noelle Thompson | High School Teacher | eNotes Employee

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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*)

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trophyhunter1 | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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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.

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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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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.

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jashley80 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Assistant Educator

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 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.

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howesk | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Assistant Educator

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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.

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rskardal | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

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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.

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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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.

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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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!!
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teachertaylor | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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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.

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Susan Hurn | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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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.

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lmetcalf | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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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.

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kiwi | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

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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.

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lrwilliams | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

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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.

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scarletpimpernel | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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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.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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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.

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