Libraries are Relevant

By Laura Lucus
Eastern Shore Public Library Foundation

Libraries are as relevant today as ever. As Laura Bush said, “I have found the most valuable thing in my wallet is my library card”.

In a study called “How Americans Value Public Libraries in Their Communities”, the Pew Research Center found that Americans strongly value the role of public libraries in their communities, both for providing access to materials and resources and for promoting literacy and improving the overall quality of life:

  • 95% agree that the materials and resources available at public libraries play an important role in giving everyone a chance to succeed;
  • 95% say that public libraries are important because they promote literacy and a love of reading;
  • 94% say that having a public library improves the quality of life in a community;
  • 81% say that public libraries provide many services people would have a hard time finding elsewhere.

Women, African-Americans and Hispanics, adults who live in lower-income households, and adults with lower levels of educational attainment are more likely than other groups to declare all the library services Pew asked about “very important.”  Adults ages 30-64 are also more likely than younger or older respondents to say many of the services are “very important,” as are parents with minor children. Libraries are also particularly valued by those who are unemployed, retired, or searching for a job, as well as those living with a disability and internet users who lack home internet access. This would seem to indicate that underserved communities of all kinds find libraries especially important.

The Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about issues, attitudes and trends. It conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis and other empirical social science research, but does not take policy positions. You can learn more about its research on libraries by going to www.pewinternet.org and searching the term “libraries”. The 2013 study referred to above can be found at here.

In a Forbes article dated January 16, 2013 entitled “Why Public Libraries Matter: And How They Can Do More”, David Vinjamuri wrote that American libraries are “dynamic, versatile community centers. They welcomed more than 1.59 billion visitors in 2009 and lent books 2.4 billion times – more than 8 times for each citizen. More than half of young adults and seniors living in poverty in the United States used public libraries to access the internet….to find work, apply to college, secure government benefits, and learn about critical medical treatments”.

In a special eight-part series called “Keys to the Whole World: American Public Libraries”, National Public Radio highlighted the dynamic and creative role of libraries in American life. They covered such topics as the difficulties of finding funding, the challenges of rural libraries,  some as small as one room, libraries with more screens than books, digitizing library collections, gaming at the library, and borrowing not only books but such useful items as fishing poles. Of particular interest is the segment entitled “For Disaster Preparedness: Pack a Library Card?”  In the days after Hurricane Sandy, libraries in New York were swamped with patrons looking for a place with electricity and running water, and a place to apply for FEMA help. Libraries have served as crucial hubs for information and help in the aftermath of natural disasters, so much so that FEMA has classified libraries as an essential service, one of the things that would get early funding so that communities could recover. You can find these NPR broadcasts at here.

The Eastern Shore Public Library is a Regional System with locations in Accomac, Nassawadox, Cape Charles and Chincoteague. Stop in and use the most valuable thing in your wallet, or, if you don’t already have a library card, get one!