PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.
The Pew Research Center is a “fact tank” that provides information on the issues, attitudes, and trends shaping America.
Supported by the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Center has just finished an exhaustive survey of the impact of the Internet on our lives and in particular, the impact on library services in the digital age of technology.
The overall conclusion is that library customers want more technology available at their libraries, but still want printed books and traditional library services at their library.
The availability of public computers and Internet access has become the center of information services at nearly all public libraries in America and are considered a vital service in the digital age.
Funds from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, as well as local, state, and federal efforts, have brought Internet access to even the smallest public libraries in America.
The national survey found that “borrowing books, librarians, and free access to computers and the Internet” are all equally important services of libraries.
Training classes are considered essential relating to e-borrowing, using hand-held devices (and downloading), and using the library’s online resources.
A majority of respondents felt that it was a public priority for libraries to coordinate with local schools, offer literacy programs for young people, have spaces in the library for reading, working, and relaxing, and offer a broad selection of e-books.
Fully 91 percent of the respondents say that public libraries are an important part of their communities with 84 percent saying they have used a library facility at some point in their lives.
The vast majority still use libraries to check out books or media, followed by research or information gathering.
Half ask the librarian for assistance, others attend programs, with many stating that the library is simply a place to “get away.”
Those using the Internet did research for school or work, as well as using e-mail, applying for jobs, and purchasing products or paying bills online.
All of this is why I get a pain in my head when answering the question, “So, what do you do in libraries today?”
My response is “a whole bunch of stuff!”
It seems in my 40 years of working in public libraries, that we have assumed or been assigned an enormous number of tasks.
Some were a logical progression from one responsibility to another due to technology, others were someone’s bright idea to save money and close an office someplace, and yet others were librarians wanting to help people and provide the service.
There were other tasks that didn’t happen, such as selling car license plates, collecting utility bills, or processing lottery winners.
I do know of one library that sells graves in the town cemetery. Another takes reservations for spots in the town parade. Another has an unlisted phone number, but I think they finally changed that!
The one common factor that I have experienced in all public libraries is the desire of library staff to find answers to the questions posed by library users.
If they don’t know, they will ask a colleague, or call someone else. Staff will check with the resource library, or fax, e-mail, or phone another person or library.
The best librarian is someone who works like a detective, always searching and looking, and upset if no answer is found.
I reviewing the comments from librarians in preparation of the interview questions, one fact was repeated over and over. The success of today’s public libraries continues to relate to the existence of human beings working in those libraries.