On being a library in hard times

Worry about the effect of the economic downturn coupled with changes in information technology is generating a lot of consterned discussion among those concerned with the history and future of libraries. Worries start with concern about reducing public access to books and book culture, as well as to the eroding relationship of public and research libraries to the educational system.

But libraries - the municipal buildings themselves and the staff therein - also see challenging changes in their community functions when times get hard.

The NY Times had a recent article, "Downturn Puts New Pressures on Libraries" described how, in many ways, libraries are on the frontline. Library staff are called upon to seek help from police, unemployment counselors, social services, and even therapists for themselves as their jobs become very different from managing reference desks and collecting fines - indeed, in hard times, those dimes and quarters constitute enough reason for burglary.

[http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/02/us/02library.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2&th&emc=th Registration required. ]

"As the national economic crisis has deepened and social services have become casualties of budget cuts, libraries have come to fill a void for more people, particularly job-seekers and those who have fallen on hard times. Libraries across the country are seeing double-digit increases in patronage, often from 10 percent to 30 percent, over previous years. . . .

"Urban ills like homelessness have affected libraries in many cities for years, but librarians here and elsewhere say they are seeing new challenges. They find people asleep more often at cubicles. Patrons who cannot read or write ask for help filling out job applications. Some people sit at computers trying to use the Internet, even though they have no idea what the Internet is."

Those who put libraries at the top of their list of Orange County and Chapel Hill services to be reduced or eliminated might remember the American Library Association's comment:

Libraries Will Get You Through Times of No Money Better than Money Will Get You Through Times  
of No Libraries.





Although libraries serve numerous important functions as Priscila has noted above and store information in a variety of formats, I'm not sure we will (or should) ever outgrow the need for written materials.  UNC's Nobel Laureate Oliver Smithies emphasized the importance of written records in science when he spoke to students, faculty and staff last month as reported in the Daily Tar Heel.Smithies emphasizes importance of records

Discusses outdated technology forms

James Wallace, Staff Writerhttp://www.dailytarheel.com/news/university/smithies-emphasizes-importan...Taken in part from Mr. Wallace's article: He brought a collection of his old notebooks to the event, along with a floppy disk, CD and other storing devices.
“They’re all going to be out of date,” Smithies said regarding the CD and the floppy disk.
“We have to get that information down somewhere. That’s the problem with information science that you have to think about.”
He then quickly referenced his scientific notebooks, which date back to the late 1940s.
“Here’s a record; it still exists,” he said.

The new media have allowed us to do wondrous things and opened up new opportunities but I'm not sure that a world without books and the libraries to hold them has much attraction.  


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