Public libraries vs personal libraries

I got in to a conversation with my brother-in-law over the weekend over public libraries. His stance:

Public libraries are no longer needed. Period.

I have to admit, having a member of your family not be supportive of your career choice is a kick in the pants. But even more so when I consider him to be a well-educated member of our society. He holds a master’s degree in education and is a mere seconds from obtaining his PhD and yet, even he can’t see the value of a public library.

He stated that public libraries are no longer needed now that people can afford to have their own libraries at home. And with the advent of the e-reader, we’re obsolete. Really? You think our sole job is to dole out fiction?
I’ll admit, that’s why I use the library. And I’m perfectly capable of buying my own books and creating my own personal library. However, not everyone is as fortunate. I live in an area where a personal library is not affordable. People move in and out of my neighborhood frequently. They have to move when their money runs out and they can’t afford the rent anymore. Having a stack of books at home is less critical than having a roof over their head. But that doesn’t mean they should be without access to materials.

He said, with the internet, he never sees kids using encyclopedias anymore. And while this may be true, not everyone has access to the internet at home. My own mother doesn’t have a computer! If she wanted to get on the computer and look up information, where would she be able to do it if the library did not exist in her home town?

The key to public libraries is not materials. It’s not obtaining as many books and publications as possible. It’s about allowing patrons to have access to that material.

My brother-in-law happens to live in an area that is more affluent than I, so he doesn’t see how critical a resource a library is. He doesn’t have many neighbors who see the library as their sole source of access for job searching. My home library computer lab is constantly filled with job searchers with an occasional kid on there using Facebook.

As a private institution, we used to pride ourselves on our library. We would show it to individuals on their interview to help entice them to work there. But with space at a premium, our physical existence is less important. However, we still need to allow access to information for our staff. Many times we make a decision to cancel a publication because we determine how frequent we use it and if a neighboring library has it. I find myself using it more than you’d think. I use it for grabbing climatological data that the public library archives while we do not. I pull scientific articles from their journal collection that are not available online for purchase. I use it for copying words in multiple dictionaries. We’re afforded this opportunity because the public library exists.

It was disheartening to see my brother-in-law have a naive perspective on public libraries when I fight so hard to show their significance. We are more than Danielle Steel novels and encyclopedias these days.

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About indie librarian

a recently MLS librarian's observations
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