Libraries Evolving Into Community Anchors

A Sustainable City Network article (2016-09-07) reported that libraries, including those in rural areas, are altering the services they offer and the role they play in their local communities. The transformation of libraries is occurring in response to changes in information technology and patron needs. From the article:

The American Library Association (ALA) seeks to build and enhance existing relationships between local libraries and their communities. “Libraries are uniquely positioned at the heart of local, campus and school communities, enjoying public trust as repositories of knowledge and offering democratic access,” the association asserts on a special web site dedicated to the idea of transforming libraries for future growth. “The transformed library leverages its assets to open up new possibilities and go beyond informing to dynamically engaging communities.”

ALA calculates there are approximately 119,487 libraries of all kinds in the United States today. More than 9,000 of these are public libraries, consisting of main libraries and often, smaller branches. …

Key trends about library usage were described in the ALA’s 2015 State of America’s Libraries Report. “Academic, public and school libraries are experiencing a shift in how they are perceived by their communities and society. No longer just places for books, libraries of all types are viewed as anchors, centers for academic life and research and cherished spaces.”

The article noted that the transformation of libraries is including in both metro and rural areas:

Rural and small libraries are just as apt as their metro area counterparts to be not just places for books, but centers for applying for jobs, meeting with free volunteer tax consultants, meeting with navigators knowledgeable about the Affordable Care Act, and other social services residents have trouble obtaining elsewhere. …

[Association for Rural and Small Libraries Board President Jet] Kofoot says small and rural libraries become the de facto community center. “Often, the library is the only game in town. Many libraries keep the coffee pot on and have snacks out for patrons. In larger cities, people have coffee shops, diners and fast food places where they can meet over a cup of coffee. In many rural small towns, that isn’t necessarily the case. Libraries look at their community and see what they need, and provide it.” …

From her experience as a consultant, Kofoot offers this suggestion to libraries facing skepticism about their relevance in the 21st century. “Libraries should make a strategic plan to offer services based on community needs. Rural and small libraries are able to do that because they are closer to their community. In a big city library services can be lost in the crowd because so much is available. In a small rural community, the library is connected to the pulse of the community and can be more flexible,” she says.

The article also discussed the challenges most libraries face in attracting teenage patrons.

Useful Links

ALA Website

ALA Webpage on Transforming Libraries

ALA State of America’s Libraries Report 2015

Association for Rural and Small Libraries Website