Recently a friend of mine, now a director in the midwest, told me that he's hearing more and more often the refrain that building libraries just isn't necessary. Not in the 21st century. Not in the age of the Internet. I think we need some talking points about that. Here are 7 that occur to me. But I don't see why we have to stop at 7. Feel free to add to the list.
Argument #1 - The library is an anchor store and traffic generator. Libraries pull a cross-section of the public, all ages, all day long, through our doors. We are the business that (at least in most communities) never goes out of business. In fact, in a down economy, library use goes UP. You want your business to be by a library. If you're planning a development, you want the liveliness of a public building in the heart of it.
Argument #2 - Library construction is a powerful economic stimulus, esp. in a recession. People often overlook that a public construction project employs architects, general contractors, local tradespeople, local suppliers, and so on, which in turn generates sales for local restaurants, gas stations, etc.
Argument #3 - Library buildings are a bridge over the digital divide. Libraries are about access, and our record of allowing digitally disadvantaged people - poor, young, elderly, etc. - to use public technology to bootstrap themselves out of technological ghettos is real.
Argument #4 - The Internet encourages, not replaces, library use. Every time we add more Internet terminals, the use of everything else goes UP - more books checked out, more browsing, more magazines read, more reference questions, more program attendance. There's a lot of data about this (see the Library Research Service).
Argument #5 - Library buildings foster community, both through providing meeting space and lifelong learning programming. Genetically, socially, we are wired for interaction. Libraries serve the role of both common and neutral ground.
Argument #6 - Library buildings manifest and reinforce a statement of community values. The library is a tangible sign of a community's commitment to individual inquiry, a safety net for the young and old, a secular sanctuary for people who need public space either for public contact or for private pondering. I remember pondering this comment from a member of the Greatest Generation: "In my day, we lived in modest homes, but built significant public monuments. These days, we live in palaces, and build government buildings out of split-face concrete."
Argument #7 - Library buildings are an investment in our children's brains. The children's storytime - featuring real live people from your own community - is our nation's single most potent strategy for sowing literacy in the land. The library is a space where children meet live performers, then are loaded up with materials to further deepen the experience. The presence of location offering trained staff to promote literacy and learning through readers advisor work, reference work, teaching, adds a resource to a community that not only employs local people today, but helps raise people who are employable tomorrow.
What else do library buildings do?