The Changing Library

Libraries are places where you use the computer, meet people, look something up. Oh, and borrow books.

According to a study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, “Libraries in the Digital Age,” the majority of Americans find that borrowing books is an important service. And 73% borrow printed books, while 53% of those surveyed want libraries to offer more e-books for lending.

Libraries are, of course publicly funded for the most part. Yet they are often critically underfunded by local communities hurting for money. As bookstores dry up, libraries are becoming more of a meeting place than the Barnes & Noble superstore in the mall has been. People relish the quiet of a library, and the chance to read books – not only check email, surf the web, take online courses or borrow movies, DVDs and CDs. But politicians? Hardly.

I bring this up because we’re in danger of losing the public face of a reading community. Reading is, of course, a private act, since it’s the most personal of art forms, involving you and your book. But a community, especially in an age such as ours that values civic virtues, cannot exist solely online, despite the efforts of forward-thinking authors to build a platform to reach a growing audience.  And an informed community is a better community.

As an article in Publishers Weekly put it, in discussing the library study, “Libraries: Good Value – but Lousy Marketing.” But libraries are hard-pressed to keep their doors open let alone market to the locals.

Imagine a world without libraries. It would be worse than one without bookstores. The digital revolution is great, and with it has come greater power and more opportunity for authors of all sorts, with self-publishing available and no longer considered a stigma.

But we take an institution like the library for granted – and if reading is considered something you can cut from a line-item budget, then what’s to become of intellectual life? It can’t all be video games and texting.

Bob Hughes
Author: Bob Hughes
Robert J. Hughes ("Bob") was a staff reporter for The Wall Street Journal for over a decade, specializing in culture reporting. He was the paper's theater reporter, wrote on publishing, the art and auction markets, television, music, film and philanthropy, and reviewed books.
  • Cinde Dobson Johnson

    So true, Bob! We do tend to take our libraries for granted. For the wealth of information that we can get online, libraries are still an important place in the community! (And no, I can’t imagine a world without libraries!)

  • Anonymous

    Oh that makes me sad! I love my library! We are there all the time. And I happily pay any late fees I incur, participate in any book sales and other events that support the library. A world without libraries would be a desolate and dreary place!