Wednesday, November 28, 2012

WHY LIBRARIES MATTER MORE THAN EVER

Libraries are transforming lives

By Ove Overmyer

Anyone who frequents their local library on a regular basis would be able to tell you that demand for library services has increased significantly over time. With the growing need for access to digital and online information, including e-government services, continuing education resources and employment opportunities, libraries are essential for thriving communities.

In 2013, the Monroe County Library System estimates it will circulate over 8.1 million items. Across the nation, last year 1.5 billion library visitors checked out more than 2.4 billion items. If you visit the “learning commons” of a college or university library, you will find it full of students.  The same is true for K-12 school libraries as young people recognize the importance of learning how to become “information literate” as part of their basic core education.

As the Civil Service Employees Association President for the City of Rochester Library Workers Local 828 Unit 7420, I often receive questions on the relevance of libraries in today’s world—especially when information can be obtained so easily in digital format. I believe questioning the need for libraries and the professionals who staff them is like questioning why earthlings need air so we can breathe.

For over 100 years, CSEA has been committed to partnering with our employers to improve public library services and work with libraries, library systems, library associations, trustees and other library advocates to help make sure our public libraries meet minimum standards for Public Libraries in New York State.

Yet, many still question why we need libraries when we have instant access to information on the Internet. Let me put this simply as possible-- to make educated decisions, we depend on reliable source citations and reference information. The Internet can never replace the expertise of library staff. Anyone who has received an overwhelming number of hits searching the Web understands what it means to have a highly trained information navigator. Why wade through hundreds, if not thousands, of possible resources when a librarian can connect you quickly with a primary source document to meet your specific needs?

We need air to survive, just as we need libraries not just to survive but to thrive in an era filled with economic uncertainty, technological illiteracy and information overload.  Technology continues to shape commerce, education and social interactions in our global world.  Libraries, which provide equitable access for all, play a key democratic role in leveling the playing field in our local communities. 

Despite the knee-jerk talking points of the ill-advised, the traditional notion of libraries continues to thrive in the age of Google and Facebook. Additionally, our libraries are also transforming lives by providing patrons with the tools needed to compete and prosper in a 21st century marketplace.

Right now, libraries are part of the solution when a community is struggling economically.  Libraries continue to design and offer programs customized for their local communities’ needs, providing residents with guidance, including sessions with career advisers, workshops in resume writing and interviewing, job-search resources and connections with outside agencies that offer training and job placement.

Also, I’m often asked what makes a good library a great library—and I tell them with no hesitation—it’s our employees. Any bricks and mortar library can house books and computers, but what really makes strong libraries and a strong library system are the dedicated workers who deliver these vital public services. 

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