2015-03-03 / Columns

Off the Shelf

Dawn D. Rogers Kroll, Director

Libraries are more popular than ever. A Siena College Research Institute poll conducted in January 2015 determined that local public library usage is up 10% statewide over the previous three years. Bearing this in mind, I recently attended “Lobby Day” in Albany with other library colleagues to advocate for increased funding for public libraries in our state. We shared insights with elected representatives regarding our libraries and why they are still so relevant today. Steven Abram is a librarian who has written about this topic. Here are some reasons that many of you may or may not be aware of:

1. Not everything is available on the Internet - amazing amounts of useful information on the web has engendered the false assumption that everything can be found online. But it’s simply not true.

2. Digital libraries are not the Internet - online library collections are different and typically include materials that have been published via rigorous editorial processes and are riddled with quantitative analysis instead of opinion. Types of materials include books, documents, newspapers, journals, magazines and reports which are digitized then stored and indexed through a limited-access database.

3. The Internet isn’t free - numerous academic research papers and journals are virtually inaccessible to someone seeking to pull them off the web for free. Access is restricted to expensive subscription accounts which are typically paid for by college libraries and visiting a college library in person or logging in to the library through your school account is therefore the only way to affordably access necessary archived resources.

4. The Internet compliments libraries, but doesn’t replace them - Internet is clearly a great resource to finding information but it’s not a replacement for a library. Well! There are clear advantages of libraries over the Internet for research however the benefits of the Internet includes “sampling public opinion,” gathering “quick facts” and pooling a wide range of ideas. The point is this: libraries are completely different than the web.

5. School libraries and librarians improve student test scores - studies show that students who frequently visit well-stocked and well-staffed school libraries end up with higher scores and perform better on reading and writing exams.

6. Libraries aren’t just books - technology is integrating itself into the library system and not bulldozing it. So, by pushing this trend to its logical extreme we could eventually see libraries’ entire stacks relegated to databases and have books only accessible digitally.

7. Mobile devices are not the end of books or libraries - predictions of the “end of the book” are a predictable response to digitization and other technologies and the crystal ball of some in the pro-paper crowd seems to also reveal a concomitant crumbling of civilization.

8. Library attendance isn’t falling; it’s just more virtual - the number of schools offering online degrees is constantly on the rise and many of these schools are improving their virtual libraries by the day.

9. Physical libraries are adapting to cultural change - knowledge that was once encased in books and compartmentalized by subject area is now being liberally disseminated in an explosion of democracy rendering obsolete the austerity of the lonely and echoing corridors of the library.

10. Eliminating libraries would cut short an important process of cultural evolution - the library that we are most familiar with today is a public or academic institution that lends out books for free and is a product of the democratization of knowledge. Books weren’t always so affordable and private libraries or book clubs were a privilege of the rich. In reality the quality of the web depends on guidance from the library model.”


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