My brain has recently been immersed in activity and literature about library building projects. That is no surprise I am sure. The library board has decided to place a bond measure for a library renovation and expansion on the ballot for August 16, 2011 and we are busy planning community meetings, developing fact sheets, speaking to community groups and contacting potential donors for the fundraising campaign.
As we talk to our citizens about the plan, the issue that seems to be most intriguing to folks is the future of information storage and delivery. We are in the middle of a remarkable digital revolution. In the future, information will be overwhelmingly digital. Where does that leave the library as a physical place?
It is our experience and the experience of libraries nationwide that public libraries are experiencing incredible growth in usage. Our usage statistics are up +9% a year for the last three years and up +16.3% year-to-date.
The library broke all-time records for circulation and use of materials and services in March 2011, with 37,008 checkouts of materials of all types, including books, DVDs, CDs and audio books – up +7% over the previous high. In March, more residents visited the main library than in any prior month, with a door count of 17,164 users, users checked out more books than in any month in our history, programs for babies, kids and teens, were up +69.5 over the same period last year and website usage was way up (by a remarkable +61%), with the largest number of uses ever.
All of that activity would seem to belie any myth that the public library is dead and the book is obsolete. In addition, these days our library serves as a place for afterschool homework programs, reading tutoring for 2nd-5th graders, early learning programs for preschoolers and a computer and technology center for job seekers and others who can’t afford a PC or who lack a high speed connection at home. The library as community education center is a reality we experience every day.
The future is digital, but the prevalence of electronic communication does not mean that other forms will cease to be relevant or become automatically extinct. We are finding the digital revolution to be cumulative. As new products are added, the information and the reading environment becomes richer, and more residents come to us to experience it in all its forms. We are finding the digital revolution to be a community event, sparking new interests, curiosity and personal and social connection. What a great thing to have a true community learning place.