If you read this column, you are interested in books. You are a reader. But when was the last time you visited your local public library?
If you have to stop and think about it, you are like many Americans today. According to data released earlier this month by the Pew Research Center, the number of American adults who say they have visited a library in the past year has been dropping, decreasing from 53 percent in 2012 to just 44 percent in 2015.
5 ways the library has changed with the times
Looking at those numbers alone, however, you would not realize the many changes libraries have made over the past decade or so to remain relevant in their communities. Today’s public libraries do so much more than store and lend books. Here are five meaningful ways the library has changed with the times.
- Literacy programs – Libraries offer important literacy programs for beginning readers of all ages, and for those seeking to learn English as a second language.
Most community libraries offer both academic and summer reading programs for children and teens. These programs offer incentives for kids to read and have proven to be effective in getting kids to read “for fun.” Imaginative programs for young children help parents – especially those who were not read to as children themselves — learn the life-changing importance of reading to their children.
In addition, public libraries offer literacy programs for adults. According to proliteracy.org, 36 million American adults read at or below a third grade level. The library offers free literacy classes, many with one-on-one volunteer tutors to help combat this problem.
- Career skills. The National Assessment of Adult Literacy defines literacy as “using printed and written information to function in society, to achieve one’s goals, and to develop one’s knowledge and potential.”
Without literacy, it is difficult for most Americans to land a steady job. Without a steady job, they cannot support themselves or their families. Hand in hand with reading skills, come other important life skills training the library offers.
Along with free Internet access and free use of computers, your public library offers free programming in computer literacy, resume building and interview skills. Many libraries also offer training and support for patrons to take high school equivalency exams.
- EBook lending. Did you know many public libraries provide free access to electronic books? They do. With only your library card number and your e-reader, you can download and enjoy thousands of digital books.
Keep in mind that you may need to wait a while for the latest best-seller to become available. Like checking out a real book at the library, there are a finite number of copies available for e-book circulation, But, hey, the price is right.
- After-school programs. The library provides a safe, comfortable spot for children to gather after school. This safe haven aspect is particular important for teens who may not have a quiet study space at home or who may lack Internet access at home.
Gone are the days when the librarian peered over her eyeglasses and “shushed” you if you made a sound. Today’s libraries still expect respectful behavior, of course, but libraries encourage kids to interact and socialize in teen rooms, which are often furnished with comfy chairs and floor pillows, and in children’s rooms that offer toys to play with and maybe even small animals to hold in addition to books and computers.
- Community programming — Another huge benefit of the library is the space it offers for meetings and other public gatherings.
Public libraries host a wide variety of events from children’s sleepovers and playtimes, to movie screenings and craft times for adults. Libraries host book groups and writers’ clubs. They even tie in with popular TV shows and films to offer special screenings and other fun events. Best of all, these events are free.
In addition, students of all ages can find some talented, experienced research experts at the library.
Yes, Google is great, but sometimes you need a little assistance to delve more deeply into a subject. Librarians are eager to help find what you need for that white paper or research project you are tackling. They provide guided research and suggestions and can lead you to a wealth of information on just about any topic.
So, maybe it’s time you visited your local library. You won’t be sorry.