This budget cycle will decide the future of libraries

For a long time the priority of public libraries has been to provide services to meet the needs of the communities. Most public libraries including the three systems in New York City express their mission purpose as providing information, education, and recreation to their communities.  These three things, information-education-recreation, allows so many varying interpretations for programming, use of the space and material acquirement.  These core ideas were set in the 1940’s and because of this libraries have always adapted to the times.

 New York City in the 1940’s had a different needs base that it has today. For years now public computers are expected in libraries. In the 1980’s and 1990’s libraries adjusted to the changing community needs and collectively agreed to be computer centers. The basic principles of librarianship with the focus on the community gave libraries the ability to take on technology.

 I’ve worked at Queens Library for over six years now, and from my day to day work it is obvious that libraries are at yet another crossroads. I read about the impact ebook readers will have for years and didn’t put much thought into it. All of the sudden this past Christmas season, we are now frequently getting questions of how to access ebooks from the library website. I have a long commute and see people reading portable devices for long periods. So the hope that this will not catch on is a false one. Some of these ebook devices are not compatible with library vendors because of publishing issues and so forth. For people that solely use ebook devices for their reading may no longer need to check out physical materials from the library. This is also very much true with DVD movies, which currently boost circulation quite a bit in libraries.

 For years the internet has been changing librarianship. It has changed reference services and has given a common belief that a lot of research can be done on one’s own. There will always be people that need help with technology, but a lot more people can be independent in their research now, and that trend will continue.

 So with a change in the future how people will read and use technology there are a lot of people questioning libraries. With so many agencies in the city facing budget cuts why should libraries not be affected?  My answer to that is libraries are in a time of change, and if libraries are not funded adequately libraries will lose. Bloomberg proposed a 25 million dollar cut to Queens Library last week which if put into affect would lead to library closings and a lot of layoffs.  Unfortunately if that happened less people would have access to the library and the library would no longer be a neighborhood institution. I think if the cuts take place on that scale, then for several years the cuts would continue. I don’t think these cuts are all recession based, but an attack on the idea of using public funding for libraries. I believe the advocacy done now until late June against these cuts is also a fight for the future of libraries.

Working in a library I really see how it affects people’s lives in a positive way. Kids and teens can add to their education, participate in fun and engaging programming, check out materials, and have time on the computer. Adults can check out books, movies, participate in book clubs, and self educate themselves. After high school in this country people need to pay for their education or get training for their trade or career. The library is the one place that people can go to access materials and become self taught in something. This can range from studying for certification or researching an academic discipline. All New York City citizens deserve access to these resources through neighborhood libraries. Yes it is very much true that not everyone uses the library, but it can be life changing for the people that do use the libraries. Just because libraries and librarianship are in a period of transition doesn’t mean the public should suffer, and with adequate funding libraries could be stronger than ever.

4 thoughts on “This budget cycle will decide the future of libraries

  1. I agree that public libraries will be at an end point soon. Here’s a question: what happens, say 10 years from now, when the current group of users who are in their 60s and above, begin to pass on? Adults younger than them have no need for libraries. 1) They have computers at home and computers/laptops/ipads will continue to get better and cheaper. The leftover bags of bones who currently come to the libraries to use computers won’t be around (that’s probably at least half our adult raffic right there) 2) e-books, Kindles, etc are here to stay and will also get better and cheaper. The main problem with them traditionally is that books are better for the eyes and visually more pleasing. Not any more. The current Ipad, Kindles are just as good visually as books and they’ll improve more and more. DVDs, which it’s pathetic and fake that libraries ever acquired are on their way out. Sales for DVDs last year were at their lowest since 2001.

    What’s left? Programming but it’s hard tio imagine building a whole profession on that

  2. It is a period of transition. I hope public libraries are here to stay. I think libraries will have to adapt to the times. Maybe more emphasis on programming and community centers. Also reader’s advisory, and reference can be important because people will need help with things when technology changes. I hope we can have a life long career in this if we choose, but it will be different even 5 years from now.
    Thanks for reading my entry Joe and thanks for taking it seriously.

  3. I hope you’re right…but things will change a great deal over the next ten years. the ‘service’ model has to change too. Baby is coming out tomorrow

  4. Congrats to you and Jingmin on the little one!

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