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Are Libraries Still Relevant in the Age of Google?

Services that libraries provide to the community to remain relevant.

Hello! I’d like to start by introducing myself. My name is Scott and I’m the new Community and Adult Services librarian at Whitefish Bay Library.

I’ll start by making a confession; I’m seriously addicted to my iPhone. I carry it with me everywhere I go all of the time. Barely a minute goes by where I don’t have my iPhone either in my pocket or in my sightline.  I love having a world of information only a touch screen away.  If I can’t remember the name of that book, song, movie, actor, or factoid, I pull out my phone and do a quick Google search. I’m impatient and must know these things right this very minute.

How did I appease my curiosity in the times before the iPhone and the internet? I did one of two things: I did some research to find the answer or I continued on with life never knowing the answer to my question. How did I do research? I would usually start by asking friends and family. If that didn’t turn up anything, I’d look in an encyclopedia or book at home. If I still didn’t find the answer, I’d stop by my public library to find it. I have a feeling that I’m not alone in my methods. Today, my answers are usually one Google search away. As a librarian I know how to effectively evaluate and sift through the information that I find through Google (or other reliable search engines and portals) so I know that I am looking at the best and most accurate information versus something posted by a 12-year old kid.

So what do we still need libraries for? If you’re a voracious reader and don’t want to buy every James Patterson novel (he “wrote” 14 novels in 2012), the library is a great option. But according to the Pew Research Center, the average American reads 17 books a year, and 19% of Americans don’t read any books at all. We also have DVDs, CDs, magazines, and eBooks for checkout and providing these materials to Village residents is a well-used service, but I don’t believe it’s enough of a service to sustain our longevity. Besides materials, what does a library have to offer a 21st Century individual?

Here are what make libraries relevant today:

1) Local History- Libraries have the important task of collecting and archiving local history. At Whitefish Bay Library, we house the beautiful Mimi Bird Historical Collection, a 39-volume set which contains materials on the area, including photographed homes, businesses and landmarks.

2) Free Programming- Libraries offer educational, entertaining, family fun programming for free. At Whitefish Bay Library we offer a wide array of children’s programming, and in 2013 we will be offering programs and classes for adults too.

3) Computers- Not everyone can afford, wants, or even needs a computer in the home. The library provides computers to the public for free so that they can work on emails, send out resumes, or look at photos of their families.

4) Research- As powerful a tool as the internet is, not everything can be found online with a Google search. Librarians help individuals to do more focused research and evaluate resources for accuracy. At the Whitefish Bay Library, our Adult Services desk and Youth Services desk are staffed during our open hours to help you find what you need.

5) Specialized Knowledge- Libraries offer other personalized services such as book recommendations, help loading your Kindle with library eBooks (yes we check out eBooks!), placing holds, help navigate consumer information, help with computers, and much, much more!

6) Libraries as the Third Place- There is a belief that people need a separate social place other than work and home. The third place helps to build democracy, civic engagement, and a sense of belonging. The library can be that third place in the community to meet and be social with your friends and neighbors. Our mission statement at the Whitefish Bay Library is: To be a cornerstone of the community by supporting an informed citizenry, promoting a love of learning and providing easy access to ideas, information, and resources for patrons of all ages.

These are just a few reasons why I think libraries are still necessary. What are your thoughts?

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

AWD November 29, 2012 at 04:14 PM
Cities, Town, Village libraries serve no function in today's society and are a tax drain. The library is good for one group though; homeless people can hang out, surf porn, clean up, stay warm and go to the bathroom.
CowDung November 29, 2012 at 04:47 PM
While everyone loves to have access to free books, I see libraries as a waste of resources and large unnecessary in more affluent areas like the North Shore. The money/funding should be shifted to areas (like inner city Milwaukee) where people aren't as able to buy their own books or pay for computers/internet service. Those are the people that truly need the services that a library can provide. I think it is better to serve them rather than serving the people who are just too cheap to buy their own copy of the latest best sellers...
WPN1488 November 29, 2012 at 09:20 PM
CowDung...very good points.
235301 November 30, 2012 at 03:21 AM
The library in WFB only serves two constituents now: young children and the elderly. Both groups are not savvy enough to use internet services to deliver the same content. Where libraries need to drive is in the acquisition and delivery of digital content that can be consumed on the plethora of tablets available today. It won't be long and schools will deliver their textbooks via tablet only. Paper is finally dying. That should make the tree huggers happy right? Makes you wonder about the people that would use taxpayer money to prop up a dead medium. Hmmm???
Absolutelyfabulous November 30, 2012 at 07:37 PM
Sorry, but I have to agree w/ the article and not with Dung & WPN et al. What would be interesting to see and to some degree it is possible when people sign up for computer use, is how many persons utilize the library on a daily basis and what aspects of the library they utilize. Strictly internet/meeting rooms/gathering for young persons etc. The library in Shorewood also shows films and a whole lot more as well. There are numerous special events along with the internet/books available. Here is the link for the events page and then it expands from there. It's more than books & internet and just the very young and old. http://www.mcfls.org/shorewood/events.htm They are important in the social fabric of the communities that they are in and since they were just constructed w/in the last decade or so at the cost of millions of dollars for both Shorewood & WFB, they're not going anywhere soon or ever for that matter. BTW, what is wrong w/ having a destination that potentially may cater to more persons of a certain age group? Where is a toddler going to go or go on their own? Where is an elderly person who may have limited resources/mobility to go/potentially feel safe or safer? Why not a centrally located destination in their own community that offers a wide range of services/functions for people to take advantage of? BTW, here are just some of the past events that have taken place at the Shorewood libaray. http://www.mcfls.org/shorewood/photo/event.htm
CowDung November 30, 2012 at 07:55 PM
No apologies necessary, Abs. Difference of opinion and good discussion is supposed to be what the comment section is for... I don't dispute any of what you say--libraries are obviously of use and value to many people in the community, and put on quality programs and events. I have attended at least a few myself. My point was that libraries are more of a luxury than a necessity for those in the middle class and above. For those mired in inner city poverty, libraries might be the only way to gain access to reading materials, computers and the internets. There's likely more of a need for a place to go where one can seek comfort and safety as well. I'd love to see more money being put into libraries in those areas (to keep them open and current), rather than being wasted on improving the libraries in suburbs like Shorewood, WFB, and Fox Point. If there's only so much money that can be spent by the county, I feel that we should be spending it where it is needed the most.
Absolutelyfabulous November 30, 2012 at 09:06 PM
Dung- I believe through referendums that the only monies supporting WFB & Shorewood libraries come directly from the taxpayers in those communities. To be honest, taxpayers are already paying a hefty sum in any Milwaukee County to support that ticking time bomb financial black hole we all know to be MPS. I have no problem w/ certain monies staying in their own communities. Seriously, when I see how much more some of my friends/relatives houses are assessed @ and the taxes they pay compared to what those in Milwaukee County pay, it makes a person do a double/triple take and think what the hell is going on.
CowDung November 30, 2012 at 09:14 PM
I was under the impression that it was the county library system that was the major funding source for all of the county libraries. If they libraries are indeed locally funded, then I take no issue with that money staying local.
Absolutelyfabulous November 30, 2012 at 11:00 PM
Dung- Here is what I could pull up. A microfiche version of a 2000 JS article highlighting various communities, including Shorewood, and issues they are facing w/ regard to dealing w/ library expansion/funding within their own communities. http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1683&dat=20000407&id=eb0aAAAAIBAJ&sjid=cy8EAAAAIBAJ&pg=5104,6626862
CowDung December 03, 2012 at 05:19 PM
It does seem a bit complicated. The Milwaukee County Federated Library System's website indicates that they are 'primarily funded by the State of Wisconsin', but their 15 member libraries (with Milwaukee city libraries counted collectively as 1 of the 15) are 'fiscally independent'. http://www.mcfls.org/what-we-do.asp
Absolutelyfabulous December 03, 2012 at 11:59 PM
Dung- 2 separate articles that give more insight/fill in the gaps on the current environment of the library system w/in the city and outlying suburbs. Here's a somewhat expanded view/explanation of MCFLS. It's a membership where everyone has access to what everyone else has. The main libarary has the biggest collections and everything routes through that location. Other libraries pay fees in exchange for transferring/use of other materials. Though, they pick up the tab for their own structures/equipment. The system is overburdened and economically strapped w/ an aging infrastructure. http://www.accessmylibrary.com/article-1G1-112801595/milwaukee-county-system-doomed.html ________________ Basically, the City of Milwaukee cannot afford/does not want to raise taxes to maintain/upgrade all of the current city libraries they have so they have to get creative. Options discussed/implemented..close & consolidate/incorporate into other developments where the developer builds the new shell of the library as part of the development and turns it over to the library after it's built. (What is happening with the East Library on North Ave & Murray Ave) Outlying suburbs, have dealt w/ remodeling/new construction of libraries through tax referendums et al. "Milwaukee library proposal calls for fewer but larger libraries, mixed uses" http://www.jsonline.com/news/milwaukee/92063839.html

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