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Re: [BKARTS] relevance of the LIBRARY in the Internet age

Speaking of the relevance of books in todays google & internet age, my wife is on the board of the <http://friendsofrochambeau.org/>"Friends" of our local library, a non-profit group which raises funds - through book sales, auctions, donations, etc - to use as gap financing for programs the library can't afford through it's own budget. The library budget doesn't cover all the costs of their programs, specifically children's programs, and the "friends" fill that financial gap. They also help acquire books & periodicals.

But the question that keeps coming up - in the face of staff layoffs, closings and reduced library hours - is: what is the mission of the library today? Is it simply a repository for books? A reference resource for the local neighborhood? A place to find cheap entertainment - books, videos, DVD's? A meeting place for kids after school?

Are these relevant resources for a city run, brick & mortar establishment in the age of the Internet, Google, Netflix & videogames?

There aren't many additional revenue sources for most libraries - they can teach classes, offer space for rent - but how they raise the amount of funds necessary to run a well stocked, well managed library for 12 hours every day is a big question right now.

We're in Rhode Island, I assume libraries are facing the same issues elsewhere.

Could the library become a membership organization? If patrons had to pay for their library card, would they be more invested in the library system?

Could libraries turn into mini-bookstores? With cafes, reading rooms (I know most have reading rooms, but we're talking comfy chairs like you see at Borders & independent bookstores). What if libraries teamed up with independent booksellers to set up shop in the library? What if there was music playing in the background? What if there was a cafe? These are ideas that have been kicked around.

Just two ideas, neither of which really seem like they'd make that much of a difference. But the libraries here are seeing less patronage, rising costs, and smaller budgets.

The obvious solution is to lobby for a larger budget, but this doesn't seem likely. The long term solution is to make the library system relevant. Personally, I love the library, and if you're on the book arts list, you probably do too, and it would be a shame to see even more local branches close because of lack of interest.

It's not all doom & gloom, there still are <http://gslisjoblist.blogspot.com/search/label/rhodeisland>careers for librarians, but our dinner table conversation sometimes includes "where does the library go from here?". What will libraries look like in ten years?

Jason Thompson

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