This month, two important opinion pieces appeared in the Huffington Post, one authored by American Library Association President Molly Raphael and another featuring her.
In an op ed entitled “Why Libraries Matter,” Raphael raises the point that the nation’s struggling economy has proven a double-edged sword for libraries.
She writes, “On the one hand, as the economy remains stagnant, deep budget cuts will continue to pose a threat to library service.”
On the other hand, she notes, “(T)he struggling economy has fueled renewed interest and use in library services, with Americans capitalizing on free access to books, magazines, e-books, DVDs, the Internet and professional assistance. And public libraries are also serving as a lifeline for people trying to adapt to challenging economic circumstances, providing technology training and online resources for employment, access to government resources, continuing education, retooling for new careers and starting a small business.”
Raphael makes the important point that libraries play an essential role in their communities, providing everyone with access to programs and services that fuel lifelong learning.
“In nearly all communities, it is not unusual to see patrons lining up outside of library branches, waiting for their doors to open. Public libraries serve as a lifeline for those who need access to technologies such as computers and wireless environments. Libraries offer more than just access; they are staffed with trained professional librarians who assist library patrons in finding what they seek among the myriad of ‘hits’ that Internet search engines generate.”
She closes by calling on library supporters to step forward and contact decision-makers about the importance of libraries.
She writes, “Libraries provide an anchor of stability for millions of Americans tightening their financial belts during these tough economic times. As our nation – indeed the world – struggles to emerge from this economic crisis, we cannot afford to close the books on libraries. Libraries are very much a part of the solution, not just for individuals but for whole communities. We make essential resources available within our walls and in virtual space. Every hour lost, every building closed, every librarian laid off means less access for fewer people, just at a time when people need us the most. We need our diverse publics to speak out and say, ‘Libraries are essential for learning and essential for life.’”
Raphael is also interviewed in a post, How Will We Read: In Public Libraries?, by C. M. Rubin, the author of the widely read online series The Global Search for Education and also the author of three bestselling books, including The Real Alice in Wonderland.
In the interview, Raphael is asked about the impact of e-books on libraries.
She responds, “Rapidly changing technology, adequacy of financial resources, and changing demographics are three major issues facing libraries. Keeping up with the rapid pace of technological advancement is very challenging. Demand is rapidly accelerating for e-books. At the same time, many library users continue to demand print books and resources. Libraries must meet the expectations of both kinds of users with limited financial resources. Issues related to digital content are being addressed by a new working group we created in the American Library Association. The financial resources issue is a particularly important one because now there are even more demands on those resources in terms of what the public expects and the services we need to deliver. Library use is increasing, dramatically in some places, while many libraries are experiencing a reduction in funding levels. Communities are experiencing major shifts in demographics, which require new approaches to meeting community demand. Libraries have to adapt services and often have spaces which limit their abilities to offer effective services.”