On July 6, this important op-ed appeared in the online edition of the Chicago Sun Times by Mary Dempsey, commissioner of the Chicago Public Library, and ALA President Jim Rettig. Please share it with your lists and anyone who you feel should read this important message about the value of libraries.
In Web age, libraries as important as ever
July 6, 2009
BY MARY DEMPSEY AND JIM RETTIG
A century ago, legendary urban planner Daniel Burnham, in the “Plan of Chicago,” recognized the public library as a vital civic institution. The plan called for a central library building in the heart of the city, alongside such cultural beacons as the Art Institute of Chicago and the Field Museum.
One hundred years later as more than 20,000 librarians and library supporters arrive in Chicago for the Annual Conference of the American Library Association July 9-15 libraries remain among the city’s treasured institutions. In fact, libraries in Chicago and nationwide are playing a highly visible, vital role in American life as the recession drags on and people look for sources of free, effective help in a time of crisis.
Library loans at the Chicago Public Library increased 26 percent in 2008 and have already experienced a 40 percent increase in the first half of 2009. People visit the library to research new careers, scan online job listings, create resumes, set up e-mail accounts to apply for jobs and seek financial advice. America’s libraries have been first responders to the nation’s economic crisis.
At a time when Americans are relying less on their credit cards, library-card use is climbing. More Americans hold library cards today than at any time in history. The Chicago Public Library hosted more than 12 million visitors in 2008 and is on target to exceed that number this year. Americans recognize the value of their library cards a key that unlocks the door to knowledge, learning and even entertainment, a balm for the spirit in hard times.
According to the ALA’s 2009 “State of America’s Libraries” report, 76 percent of Americans visited their public library in the past year, compared with 65 percent two years ago. Polls indicate that a substantial number of people visit their libraries to borrow CDs, DVDs and computer software or take advantage of free Internet access. They don’t even have to visit the library physically; they can access information not available on the free Web, download materials, or reserve books online or, at many libraries, send an instant message to get their questions answered.
Chicago’s public library is also doing its part to help residents avoid potholes in the long road to economic recovery. Several branches host programs on using e-mail to help in the job search, as well as programs on starting a small business and even one on getting good deals on everything from having one’s hair done and buying shoes to pre-movie dinner options. The Chicago Public Library offers free passes to 12 of Chicago’s other cultural institutions.
Library users include Richard, who lost his job after an injury at work and was eager to learn about computers while depending on his disability checks. He has been working with the Chicago Public Library’s CyberNavigators, people hired by the library with funds from its foundation to assist people in using the Internet.
A CyberNavigator also helped a job seeker who had been unemployed for three years after retiring from his 35-year job with the U.S. Postal Service. They helped him update his resume, set up an e-mail account, post his resume online and e-mail potential employers.
Every library in the Chicago area, indeed, every library in the country, has similar stories. Libraries are helping America’s workers return to work.
But even as thousands of people rediscover the value of their local library, libraries face the same economic challenges as the rest of the country. From coast to coast, shrinking budgets have forced libraries to eliminate proven library programs and cut staff. While Chicago has continued to support its library, many library systems have been forced to reduce hours or even close branches.
As Chicago celebrates the centennial of the “Plan of Chicago,” it is clear that libraries remain an essential community resource, especially during these challenging economic times. But they require the financial commitment of their communities in order to fulfill their mission to meet the intellectual, cultural and educational needs of the people they serve.
Mary Dempsey is the commissioner of the Chicago Public Library. Jim Rettig is the president of the American Library Association, based in Chicago.
suntimes.com Member of the Sun-Times News Group
To see op-ed on the Web, please visit: http://www.suntimes.com/news/otherviews/1653032,CST-EDT-open06.article
Recently, the PIO also worked with NBC’s “Today” show on a segment entitled “Libraries lend a hand in tough times,” which ran on June 11, and encouraged other NBC affiliates to run the story. The segment highlights the increase in public library use and the role libraries play in helping American’s find work. It can be viewed at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21134540/vp/31237988#31237988.
Other stories include the following: NBC Nightly News, CBS Evening News on Dec. 31 and Feb. 2, CNN as it appeared on Los Angeles’s KCAL-TV, National Public Radio (NPR), Chicago Sun Times, Washington Post, Parade Magazine, Huffington Post and The New York Times blog Freakonomics,
The PIO also has developed tools to help librarians publicize the surge in visits in their communities. Press releases, talking points and an FAQ can be found in the “Advocating in a Tough Economy Toolkit” at http://www.ala.org/ala/issuesadvocacy/advocacy/advocacyuniversity/toolkit/index.cfm
Mark Gould, Director, Public Information Office, ALA