With the internet becoming the major source for research and entertainment, are libraries even relevant any more?
Definitely yes, for a number of reasons.
For young children, libraries are essential for developing a love of reading. With so many schools grimly focused on testing and improved test-scores, reading-for-fun has too often been taken out of the school day as an inefficient use of time. But as Dr. Krashen has demonstrated in his excellent book “The Power of Reading”, kids become skilled readers when they learn to love reading, that is when they read-for-fun. The secret of reading-for-fun is having a peaceful place to read, and having access to an array of fun books to choose from. This happens to be a perfect description of a library!
In fact, studies back this up:
“Elley found the availability of books is a key factor in reading achievement. He studied the reading achievement of children in 32 countries and found that factors which consistently differentiated high-scoring and low-scoring countries were large school libraries, large classroom libraries, regular book borrowing, frequent silent reading in class, and frequent story reading aloud by teachers. The highest scoring countries typically provide their students with greater access to books in the home, in nearby community libraries and book stores, and in the school.”
“Krashen found a significant positive correlation between each (U.S.) state’s 1992 fourth-grade reading comprehension scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) and the number of books per students in school libraries (p.<01) as well as library use (p<.01), regardless of how much money the state spent on education per pupil. The findings suggest that for money spent on education to effect reading scores it needs to be invested in library books.”
Having books in the home is extremely important for academic success. So for kids growing up without home libraries, community and school libraries are their only hope of developing a love of reading, and thus becoming excellent readers (an essential skill in the 21st century).
But what about adults, can’t they just go on the internet? With the demise of more and more bookstores, public libraries have become an essential hang-out for adults. In addition libraries provide internet access and a place for adults to better themselves though reading and being part of the community.
“Conversely, libraries have been evolving into more welcoming places since the turn of the twentieth century. There are currently numerous outreach services provided by both academic and public libraries: tutorials on using online systems; pathfinders; programs for newcomers; programs for speakers of another language; “One Book” programs in which the entire community, campus or town, reads the same book, then gathers in small groups to discuss it; and programs for special interests, e.g. gardening, computer literacy, genealogical research. In public libraries, there are also programs for children, adolescents, young singles, and women; book clubs; knitting clubs; outreach programs for literacy and for immigrant communities. Libraries are not only in the business of loaning materials, answering reference questions, and providing computers and news media. Libraries are a major force in building community.”
“Libraries have unexpectedly become cutting edge. It’s not just true here; it is a national trend. A survey released this year by the American Library Association found that “the number of visits to public libraries in the United States increased 61 percent between 1994 and 2004.””
With so many kids not reading at grade level and with so many adults hardly reading at all, libraries are an important antidote, they really do matter.
Here in California, the economic downturn and huge tax cuts have lead to an enormous budget shortfall. In response, Governor Jerry Brown is all set to make big cuts to essential public services (including libraries) unless the citizens of California vote for his package of tax increases. If we want public services then we have to be willing to pay for them. If you value libraries, schools, infrastructure (and are a citizen of California) then please vote Yes on Governor Jerry Brown’s proposition to raise taxes.
Note: here is a fascinating article on the history of the public library.
“The first public library was created in England. At that time, the only people who were able to use libraries were individuals who joined a cathedral or were enrolled in college. This public library was called Francis Trigge Chained Library. This public library actually still exists and is famous for its long standing history of giving the people free access to all library resources. Although this library was the first, it stood nearly alone in its existence until the mid 1800s. That was the time period in which public libraries began to become popular.
– In England, Parliament decided to make a committee dedicated to considering the creation of multiple public libraries. The committee was supposed to decide if a public library was something that would benefit the public. The committee reported back that public libraries would be beneficial, since so many people were poor. The recommendation was to open multiple public libraries throughout the country. This decision led to the Public Libraries Act of 1850. The act allowed all cities to collect taxes for public library support, providing that the population of the city had at least 10,000 people.
– This was quickly followed by the Public School Law, created in 1870. The point of this law was to raise the literacy rate of the public, since it was very low at the time. The only people who really knew how to read were rich people and scholars. Obviously, this literacy need increased the need for public libraries. By the 1870s, over 50 cities had created public libraries of their own. Only 30 years later, the number of public libraries hit 300. This was the time when public libraries began opening everywhere, and the United States began funding them as well. A public library was funded by public money, but it was also common for the people to help out these public libraries grow and flourish. Womens’ clubs and the wealthy donated books to these public libraries to improve their selections.”