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Why is the library essential?

I thought about commenting on the post below, but this question deserves a post of its own. It looks like our library’s status is an issue that is going to stick around awhile. Libraries are closing everywhere, even in large metro areas like Chicago, Philadelphia and Charlotte (the first few that come up on a search).

It’s also a question that came up at the Duluth Chamber’s most recent “Forvm” event with city council candidates, and it led to some odd answers. One candidate said something like, “Absolutely we need to support our library.” I take that as meaning he thinks it’s essential. But then he went on, “I haven’t been there since college. It seems everything I need now is on the internet, but I was there all the time in college.”

Another one said something like, “Every modern city has to have a library.” I don’t think that’s a good answer either, and apparently there are some modern cities that think otherwise in this economy. It seems they all wanted to support it, but no one could really say why it’s essential. I think it’s somewhat safe to assume they don’t use it or it would have been an easy answer.

I talked to one of our area business leaders who thinks it’s more about providing access for those who don’t have internet. In answer to that, wouldn’t a progressive or “modern” city put the funding into a system that gives people that online access? Isn’t it about books anymore? Are there a lot of things at the library that can’t be found online? Do we know what percentage of our city population uses the services provided by the library?

I don’t know anything about this stuff. And I know lots of other people who don’t have any facts on the issue either – the reason for the post.

Perhaps some in the PDD community can provide solid reasons why our library is essential. With the issue coming before the council again on Monday, perhaps this can also serve as an opportunity to let our councilors know those reasons too. I know at least a few of them who check in here.

I haven’t been in the building since 2002, but certainly don’t mind supporting it if it’s truly for the greater good of our community. I love the new mural!

41 Comments

edgeways

about 8 years ago

It is essential because it:

1) Provides books (and movies and music and magazines) for free, given the current economic climate it offers great resources to many individuals and families who don't have the individual resources to purchase these things.

2) Being as these are free it also allows people to explore authors and topics one might be wary about spending money on to find out if you like them.

3) Great resource for children's material

4) Great space for public interaction and meeting without the requirement that you purchase something in order to justify being there.

5) Repository of local history, not necessarily on the internet.

Having a citywide internet service would be nice, but it excludes those unable to purchase a computer, the library provides that for free, which also allows for those who may not have a solid address a place to go to check email.

Here is an article from 2009 that address some of your questions

Honestly if city council members, or seekers, can not articulate at least some of why public libraries are good I'd be pretty ... er ... disgusted with them.

Personally I love browsing any large library, just walking trough the stacks and pulling random books and seeing what they are about and if they are any good. The internet is a good thing (sometimes) but it has huge holes in it.

Barrett Chase

about 8 years ago

To answer your question about library usage, according to the National Citizen Survey linked to in Mayor Don Ness' PDD post on the subject, 69% of Duluthians used a city library at least once in the 12 months prior to the survey.

There are far more services provided by the library than simply providing access to books and the internet. For one thing, the library helps a lot of unfortunate (or fortunate but technologically lost) people gain access to the knowledge they need to better themselves. Librarians don't just point you toward the place where you might be able to get the knowledge. They actually walk you through it.

In other words, the library is a great resource that helps citizens help themselves.

Jesusita

about 8 years ago

I am currently using the library for many things that are enriching my life and saving me money. I have two sets of language CDs that I am working through to brush up on my second language (my minor in college years ago) and to start getting the basics down of a third. I am working through the complete works of a particular author who was quite prolific. While our library system doesn't have every single one of his books, I am able to obtain the ones I do not have through the greater library system via inter-library loan. 

I am on the waiting list for four books that I want to read, and the library has decided to order three books that have recently come out that I would like to read but that they hadn't purchased. (You put in an ILL order and if it's new and the library doesn't have it, they decide if it's something they would like to add to their collection. Sometimes you get lucky and they order it, and you are top on the list.) This is in addition to the seven books I currently have out beside me on the table right now (and the one waiting for me at my local library that I requested from the main library). I don't have to play "will it still be there when I get there?" with books, because I can put a hold on it (or I can ask for it to be transferred to my local library in order to avoid going further out of my way if it's somewhere else in the system).

Sometimes when I want a good place to work, but I don't want to have to buy coffee somewhere, I just pop over to my local library and enjoy seeing fellow Duluthians going about their library business. Reference books that are updated every year are easily checked at the library, which saves me from needing to buy them every year (my husband has a particular book for his line of work that helps him stay on top of new developments, but it's costly to purchase yearly).

Granted, I'm a book lover (most of the space in my apartment is taken up by bookshelves), but there's something about randomly grabbing something off the shelf at the library and digging in to see if I'll like it. Yeah, I could do that at B&N, but I can't just take it home to see if I like it before buying it. I generally find some of the best random reads at the library by judging the book by its cover and taking it home.

To add to edgeways regarding computer use: More and more companies are going to online application systems. People who are looking for a new job but don't have a computer or internet at home are able to use the free services at the library to apply and check online job sites.

Libraries are awesome and have different uses depending on who you are. I'm sure some people check out the CDs and DVDs more than I do (I use Spotify and Netflix when I want to check out new music or movies), but it's not just about my needs (obviously). Reference librarians are excellent resources for any random question you may have, even if you aren't at the library. If you need to know something and you can't find it easily, call the library and ask for a librarian.

Jesusita

about 8 years ago

Excellent point about learning how to research and find information, Barrett.

TimK

about 8 years ago

A free library is a hallmark of democracy. Libraries are part of our compact as citizens. Knowledge IS power. If you could only buy a book from a commercial retailer, who decides what's available? Libraries are an important part of the marketplace of ideas, unhindered by the marketplace of money and popularity.

Kerc

about 8 years ago

I live with two voracious readers and an emergent reader. For all three books are essential for becoming literate members of society. I do read, but not nearly as much as they do. 

We have a kindle for which I've checked out a few electronic books, we check out dvds and audiobooks. But mostly we do books and more books. Dumb books for kids that I would never want to own. Books that I can look up stuff in. I just checked out a book on how to make mukluks. I don't see it in my future, but it caught my eye. 

We vacationed in Bozeman this summer. It was pouring rain and the bike trail ended at the library. Hey what the heck, let's check out the library. Turns out they were hosting a Harry Potter release party and man did my kids have fun. More fun than anything else they did. And guess what? They gave away books. I'd love to see the library try for similar events here in Duluth.

George

about 8 years ago

It's good for the environment.  Lots of people checking out and reading the same book (or movie) is a lot less impact on the environment than each buying their own copy.

Dave Sorensen

about 8 years ago

I remember some Libertarian whack-job on a long-ago post saying "get a job and buy your own books", or some such thing. Good grief. The internet does not replace a library. And scanning the stacks makes for many a serendipitous discovery. Our positive comments are only scratching the surface, but it's sad we even have to have this conversation. As if such a wondrous accomplishment of civilization needs to be justified. Public libraries are just one more good thing we need to defend against those who want to privatize and commodify every last aspect of civil society. A library provides riches beyond measure to those who love books.

Lucie

about 8 years ago

Because Google doesn't give you all the research you need. There are so many articles out there only available by expensive databases which are best shouldered by a community.

Also going to the library every week with my children is a highlight. They need to see reading and research and love of artistic materials modeled by more than just their parents. They need to see these things valued by society.

zra

about 8 years ago

Dave, I immediately thought of that snippet of conversation when I saw the lede on this post. I'm loath to say it was a Libertatian POV, rather more of an anti-intellectual-because-I-don't-use-it-then-I-shouldn't-have-to-pay-for-it elitist attitude. 

Libraries facilitate the flow of information, the advancement of intellect and intelligence.

Hell, even Andrew Carnegie saw the need for libraries and built a lot of them. He recognized their importance in society and thus went out of his way to build them.

emmadogs

about 8 years ago

I agree with everything everyone has said on this thread.  I am at the Mt Royal library branch weekly.  Duluthians are able to read books that we otherwise couldn't afford.  We are able to apply for jobs online that we otherwise couldn't apply for.  We are able to let our children take home stacks and stacks of books, and learn the value of reading, that we otherwise couldn't afford to buy for them.
Public libraries are a fundamental hallmark of a free society.  They are the backbone to an educated populace.  Any city council that shuts its library's doors is a shortsighted and ignorant city council.
And:  I am completely dismayed that this needs to be spelled out to some council members.

Carolyn

about 8 years ago

All of the reasons mentioned above. 

Recently public libraries are becoming important for folks without internet access to file for benefits with the government. Many applications have now moved purely online. In this economy librarians also help people going back to work, without the technology skills, figure out how to apply to jobs online.

Chris

about 8 years ago

The libraries should be open every day, and fully staffed for a full day, so people can have open access to information regardless of the ability to pay.  Without open access, fully staffed, and full library hours, a free and informed democratic process is weakened.

maria

about 8 years ago

I have a home, a computer, and internet access at home. I think the library is awesome and use it often.

BoB

about 8 years ago

I have yet to see one explanation as to why the library is essential.  I have a hard time believing that Duluth would fall upon hard times sans library. Public works?  Sure.  Library?  Not so much.

-Berv

about 8 years ago

Let's start here, BoB:

"[there is] no safe depositary of the ultimate powers of society, but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." -Thomas Jefferson.

"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." -Unknown.

"Liberty without learning is always in peril; learning without liberty is always in vain."   -John F. Kennedy.

-Berv

about 8 years ago

I mean, libraries are depositories of knowledge.  How are they *not* essential?

-Berv

about 8 years ago

Might as well ask "are schools essential?"

EvilJeffy

about 8 years ago

Two words, Childhood literacy.  When you have kids (which I do not, nor do I have any intention of ever doing so) they have a tendency, if properly raised, of being voracious readers.  Not everyone is going to have all of the books that children want to peruse or devour completely in their personal home libraries and therefore you have the public library.  When I was a kid they were still running the book-mobile up and down park point and it was great!  Every week I got a few more books to churn through before the next time the book-mobile came by.

If you have any interest in have a future of literate people you have to have libraries.  If you want the ability to read only there for the children of wealthy people then you might as well tear them all down and we can go back to the good old days.

Lojasmo

about 8 years ago

A good article from the CSM.

http://www.csmonitor.com/2005/0311/p09s01-coop.html

@BoB

Would the city "fall on hard times" without the library? No.  Would it deprive lots of Duluth citizens of opportunities for self-enrichment, and remove vital resources for the  less fortunate among us?  Absolutely.

There are plenty of good arguments supporting e designation of libraries as vital services above your post.  Just because you don't understand them, or because they don't match your world view, does not make them invalid.

Carla

about 8 years ago

The internet is a vast repository of incorrect, incomplete, disorganized and not peer reviewed information.  If you intend to do any "real" research you have to go to a library.

Lojasmo

about 8 years ago

Carla:  to be fair, tHe Internet also holds a wealth of categorized and peer reviewed information as well.

BoB

about 8 years ago

You'd all be making a great case for public libraries as an essential service IF there were no other libraries in society.  Unfortunately for your argument, that is not the case.  Our universities, colleges and other institutions of higher learning have libraries.  Our elementary, middle and high schools have libraries.  The majority of these are already publicly-funded institutions, and the rules need to change if they are closed to the general taxpaying public.  Like so many other public agencies, this is yet another example of a duplicate service.  

Public libraries are simply not "essential."  Nice to have?  Sure.  Essential?  Nope.

Also: Your quote, "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime" is the perfect argument against our current welfare programs.  It hardly applies to public libraries, save some far-fetched, analogous translation.

Deb

about 8 years ago

A library is nonessential only if you consider an informed, predate citizenry unnecessary to a democracy.

Of course, to many conservatives, an uninformed, illiterate citizenry is a feature, not a bug.

For Bob, university libraries are generally not open to the general public, at least not in the same way as public libraries.  Typically, only students and faculty can actually check books out.   Duluth is both fortunate and wise in having arranged with UMD for all Duluth residents to be able to check books our of the UMD libraries.

But the collections are not the same.   University libraries are research libraries and don't carry books for the general reader.  These books are important.  The are an introduction to fields that general readers lack the background to go deeply into.   Some will go deeper, others will be satisfied to familiarize themselves with areas of knowledge they will never have the time, or interest, to go into deeply.

That's for the nonfiction.  The fiction is, yes, entertainment.  And entertainment, intellectual play, is a good thing, an essential aspect of our humanity.   Humans are the most playful species on the planet.  Deprive us of one kind of play and we will find others.

Libraries are also part of our commitment to the community, to I Clyde everyone, not just the ones with fancy computers, Internet access, and platinum cards in the public sphere.  Through libraries, we pool our resources of knowledge and share them with everyone.  And that is a good thing and a necessary thing.

Government supports, and must support libraries because government is the means by which we pool our resources for the common good.

The sad reality is, that budget cuts, the Second Great Depression, and an unwillingness to require the financially strongest among us to pull their fair share of the weight, means that we are now faced with cutting essential government services.  But if an increase in taxes will keep our libraries open, I'm willing to pay it.

adam

about 8 years ago

"...our current welfare programs..."

General Electric received a $1.1 Billion tax credit in 2010. Shut the fuck up.

emmadogs

about 8 years ago

Lojasmo, I disagree with the sentiment that 'our city won't fall apart without public libraries.'  I think that Duluthians are remarkably well read and well rounded, and that is why the city is such a delight to live in.  Take away sources of information for the poorer among us; take away resources for job hunting among the computer illiterate; take away a well informed citizenry; and who gets elected then, who is appointed to run the city then, and who moves away to a city more committed to intelligent citizens?
By the way, I appreciate your comments and agree with what you have said.  I am trying to ignore BoB the ignoramus ME partier.

Chris

about 8 years ago

I just moved to Duluth (from Texas, of all places), and I have to say that I absolutely love what I have seen thus far. The parks and recreational opportunities, the infrastructure, the general cleanliness of the city, etc... all absolutely fantastic. 

I was surprised, however, to find that the libraries are closed on the weekends. I mentioned this to a good friend of mine, a university librarian back in TX. She said, "be glad they are just closed on the weekend.' The conversation continued with her venting a lot of frustration, mostly along the vein of her students asking "why do I need a library, I have Google." Most of them don't realize (and I didn't really think about it either) that database subscriptions cost a load of money. Lots of libraries are feeling this tension, and some of them are buckling under it and closing. Bummer.

bluenewt

about 8 years ago

The Duluth Public Library has things UMD doesn't have. For example, you can't get into Newsbank, which archives the DNT, through UMD, but you can get into it with your public library card.

Lojasmo

about 8 years ago

Emma:  I believe that libraries are essential to a vibrant and well informed community.  We are  on the same page.

Bob

about 8 years ago

@Adam
The U.S. has one of the highest and most byzantine corporate tax rates in the world. It's kind of, you know, bad for business and pushes jobs offshore. Kudos to GE for finding these legal loopholes.

Bob

about 8 years ago

What is the Duluth Public Library's mission and how is that changing their strategy given the changes in access to information? Surely, the mission is different than it was 10-15 years ago. I would want to know before giving blanket financial support to the library going forward.

zra

about 8 years ago

@bob...tax cuts for companies who outsource American jobs are the #1 contributor to the loss of American jobs.

As to the facts, we're not all that bad in the realm of corporate tax rates, there are a lot of countries that run higher.

It's also quite handy that American corporations are able to influence lawmakers (read: bribe) to manipulate the tax codes to their advantage.

Deb

about 8 years ago

Bob, you can find both at the library's website.

dm08

about 8 years ago

BoB, I completely agree with you.  In my opinion, the public library is far from essential.

-Berv

about 8 years ago

Too bad.  I don't think the war in Afghanistan is essential but I still have to pay for it.  I'd rather have the library than the war.

David Beard

about 8 years ago

For the record, while I disagree with Bob vehemently in many ways, I am always impressed with the collaboration between Metro State's academic library and the St. Paul Public:

http://www.metrostate.edu/msweb/resources/library/location.html

You cannot blend collections or MLS-accredited staff, but some argument for sharing physical plant and maintenance seems possible without damaging either.  What if Duluth Public closed the Mt. Royal branch and moved into the first floor of UMD's library?

BoB

about 8 years ago

Seriously?  Did anyone even read my post, or did someone just fire up an auto "Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V" party up in here?  We need to start merging services.  This is a perfect opportunity.  Duluth won't fall apart without an independent public library primarily BECAUSE so many of our citizens access the other libraries in town.  Job seekers?  They have the job center to search for jobs.

@Deb: Thanks for confirming that UMD allows Duluth residents to access their library.  This means that a fraction of the funding for the Duluth Public Library could be directed to UMD to make up for the fictional reading that you argue is necessary for humanity to partake in.

@David Beard: Great idea.  This could be a wonderful first step in merging the two systems and modeling a cost-saving prototype for cities around the nation.

@emmadogs: You don't know me or anything about my political leanings (which makes you extraordinarily judgemental person), so I'll go easy on you......your short-sighted thinking fails to recognize the problem facing the City of Duluth, namely a massive funding shortfall due to numerous financial missteps made by city politicians over the last 40 years.  Given the choice between passable city streets, decent water and sewer service, and 7-day-a-week public library accessibility, 95% of Duluthians wouldn't choose "c."

@zra & adam: GE claimed hundreds of millions in green energy tax credits originated by the Obama Administration.  How's about we start by eliminating THOSE corporate subsidies first, eh?  Oh, I'm sorry......big oil and big coal are evil, but big auto, big steel, big ethanol and big wind turbine/solar panel/geothermal/[insert green tech o' the day here] are cool.  Gotcha.

Deb

about 8 years ago

It appears that we have reached an agreement that the library does provide an essential service, and shifted the discussion to consider whether the city's public library collection merely duplicates the collections available at the local university, thus allowing Duluth to close it's library and freeload off the university collection.

I think that the obvious and large differences between the user groups and purposes of these libraries make it very unlikely that there is any significant overlap in the collections.  

BoB, you seem to simply assume that there is no difference in the collections.  You say it's 'obvious' that we can pitch the public library, add some fiction books to the UMD collection, and be in the same place at a lower cost.

It isn't obvious to me.  I suggest that the burden of proof is on you for this one.

[email protected]

about 8 years ago

For the record, I agree with Deb:  sharing physical plant and sharing collections (as well as expertise of staff) are two different questions.  I only endorse the former.

adam

about 8 years ago

Gotcha? Hardly.

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