An article published by The Atlantic performed a study which looked at how active young readers are in comparison with those over thirty. The study also looked at the rate these age ranges go to their local libraries. The results showed that millennials do more reading than those over thirty, but don’t go to the library as often or find libraries as important as those of the older generations.
I get it. I’m not quite 30 yet, and I unfortunately see librarians are a dying breed, at least the older definition of a librarian. That freaks me out a little bit, since I am about to begin my journey to becoming a librarian myself. So I’d like to look at why libraries might be going out of fashion, and if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
First off, with the new age of technology, it’s often more convenient to order things online. You don’t have to leave your bed, or put on pants, and you can still order the book you want either as an ebook or as an actual book to add to your collection. It’s hard to compete with that. Even for millennials who are struggling to pay their rents, this seems like the go-to option. Have we forgotten that libraries are a service to receive free books?
No, we haven’t forgotten. But in an age that advertises materialism for the least amount of effort possible, ordering online seems like the easier option. If we didn’t have the internet, and access to literally any book you could imagine, I think libraries would once again be essential. But as the probability that the internet would shut down entirely is low, there really isn’t any reason to doubt the “order online” option.
I remember my childhood filled with trips to the library. It was a free place for our parents to take us that had air conditioning and didn’t constantly bombard you with buying things. As a broke parent, that must have been a relief to them. Instead, we would sit and read for hours or engage in a children’s program sponsored by the library. That brings me to my second point about libraries.
It’s not just about the books!
Libraries offer so much more than a book loaning system. Modern libraries are now used more as community centers than anything else; a place where people can gather, discuss ideas, host clubs, and teach free classes. The Pittsburgh library offers free language classes for over 7 different languages, including Chinese and Russian. These sources are so valuable in an era that wants to sell you something. Free knowledge is always what libraries have been about. Are we really going to shake our heads at that? But I understand that for millennials working full time or more, it can be difficult to take advantage of these resources.
The older generations may have ranked higher in the study as those who frequent libraries more often, but only because they have more free time on their hands. I’m talking about the retired generations. What do you do when you don’t work anymore? Many of those in this demographic visit libraries, maybe out of habit, but also maybe just because it’s a calm atmosphere that allows you to stay as long as you want for free. It certainly beats staying alone in your little apartment in the city, right?
Especially if you don’t have air conditioning.
Now let’s look at the kids. Libraries have always been learning centers for children. They encourage reading with special programs, and often parents can drop their kids off here for an hour while they take a much needed mental break, or (more realistically) go grocery shopping. This atmosphere offers children a safe environment to research what interests them, not only in books, but also through the free computers available.
The internet has greatly changed the way we take in information. In the 80’s, the internet was just being born. As such, there weren’t many options available besides books. Now, anything you can possibly want to know is at the end of a .002 second google search. Is this making books obsolete?
I don’t think so. Sure, the internet is cool, but can it offer you that warm feeling you get when you crack the spine of a book and breathe in the smell of old paper? Can it curate a collection of information that was put together by a researcher, someone who validated facts and did personal research to ensure the information was accurate? Can it give you the social interacts we as humans greatly crave?
Yes, it can be convenient, but it can also be lonely. How many serendipitous conversations have you missed with people you bump into in the mystery section of your library? How can your internet greet you with a smile and see if you need any help, or just discuss the weather? We as humans require interspecies communication, as much as some of us would hate to admit it.
So, by God, go out there and meet some cute strangers who like the same books as you! Bring your children to socialize with other children! Strike up a conversation with the lonely old person you see every Wednesday!
I forgot my point already.
It would be such a shame if libraries became obsolete. Don’t take them for granted. They are wonderful resources for all ages. Don’t forget about them. Libraries are wonderful things and must be protected at all costs.