With the introduction of eBooks and tablets specifically meant for reading, such as The Nook and Amazon Kindle, many speculated the future of printed material. The digital age was feared to be the death of physical books. In some ways, this sentiment rang true as large publishing houses have printed less physical materials than they used to; however, one can never underestimate the power holding a book has to avid readers. Newspapers and magazines have struggled tremendously in terms of selling tangible material, choosing to go largely digital but the book industry has not fared the same. Just as society said printed books were dying, it went hand in hand with the state of libraries. The stereotype of an old woman sitting behind a reference desk shushing patrons who are leafing through a dated collection with the likes of Huckleberry Finn, Moby Dick, and a Tale of Two Cities most likely fuels the flames of the myth that libraries are dying in the twenty-first century. This statement could not be more wrong.
In 2019, Americans visited the library more than they went to the movies, live sporting events, museums, concerts, amusement parks, and casinos. On average, Americans go to one of the following events twice a year; however, they found themselves at the library more than ten times a year. Breaking down the arctic view of libraries has played a large role in the continual visitation to the library by Americans. As a rather young librarian, I am often faced with this challenge. Upon telling people of my chosen career path, the response is almost always “But you’re so young.” As a librarian, we work in the information science field, thus as technology advances and changes so do we. Librarians are tasked with constantly staying up to date on the newest trends and technologies.
For older adults, we must provide the tools and services to help them adjust to this ever changing world, whether that is basic computer classes, or a book club that provides the ability to get out of the house and socialize. Teens are one of the hardest groups to reach in the library. Gaming systems, 3d printers, cooking classes and so much more are aimed at teens to show them the library is not just a building that houses books. Children’s librarians are tasked with the challenging job of implementing early literacy programs to benefit those as young as newborns. Librarians are so much more than gatekeepers for books; we are social workers, teachers, and advocates.
In these tumultuous times, libraries have been called upon to be the cornerstone of the community and to serve its people in new, creative and innovative ways. Librarians all across the country rose to the challenge. It is no secret. Libraries are grappling with the idea of when it will be safe to open. Communities rely on libraries for not just books and videos, but social services, literacy programs, U.S Citizenship classes, housing and tax assistance and public bathrooms for the homeless. With schools being closed, many children in underserved communities who relied on the library for the ability to do homework and “even the playing field” in terms of services offered by the school district have struggled.
Not all these problems were easy fixes, however many took to virtual programming or ‘Ask a Librarian’ chat features to help in as many ways as possible. A wide variety of programs including storytime, tutoring, Zumba, and board games were available. Librarians all across the country came together, as for the first time programming wasn’t strictly for citizens of hosting libraries communities. Virtual programming is offered on a variety of platforms not limited to Facebook Live, Youtube, Zoom, and Twitter. These platforms allow anyone to view them, opening program attendance to not only the U.S but globally.
I urge you to check out both your local library and libraries all over the country to see what they're doing this pandemic to continually serve to the best of their ability. Many have laxed their eBook borrowing terms, database access ability and many other services. Libraries encourage life-long learning and the pursuit of knowledge through any medium and are doing the best job possible in maintaining this goal during a trying time in history.