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When the Chatham Area Public Library District was putting together its long-range plan for the next five years, library leaders wanted to come up with a tagline to sum up its role. After a series of public discussions, they settled on the phrase “More than Books.”

Libraries are more than books

Libraries adapt to new media environment

By Dan Petrella

When the Chatham Area Public Library District was putting together its long-range plan for the next five years, library leaders wanted to come up with a tagline to sum up its role.

After a series of public discussions, they settled on the phrase “More than Books.”
“We said, ‘How do we want to identify ourselves?’ and that’s what came out,” library director Amy Ihnen said. “There’s a lot to this place that is out there to be enjoyed.”
It’s an apt description not only of how the Chatham library sees itself, but also of how people across the country see the role of libraries in the 21st century, according to a new report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

“In the past generation, public libraries have reinvented themselves to become technology hubs in order to help their communities access information in all its new forms,” said Kathryn Zickuhr, a research analyst at Pew and co-author of the report, in a statement accompanying its release. “While many patrons appreciate (being) able to access new digital resources at libraries, they also say they value having print books and other traditional resources at libraries and still want a personal connection with library staff.”

A Pew survey last fall found that 80 percent of Americans say borrowing books is a “very important” service that libraries provide. The same percentage said reference librarians also are “very important.”

Nearly as many, 77 percent, rated free access to computers and the Internet as “very important.”

Nancy Huntley, director of Springfield’s Lincoln Library, said, although some people might perceive them as old-fashioned, many libraries are at the forefront of new technologies for finding information.

“We see our role as helping to sift through that information,” Huntley said. “I still see us as sort of the best guides to information that’s out there.”

Accessing the Internet
While Internet access seems ubiquitous in the age of WiFi and smartphones, many people still rely on their public libraries to get online, local library officials said.

Janet McAllister, director of the Rochester Public Library District, said some residents on the district’s outskirts can’t get high-speed Internet access at home.

The library has four public-access computers and plans to add two more in the coming weeks, McAllister said.

Although the Pew survey found that only 26 percent of people 16 and older who had visited a library in the past year used computers or WiFi while there, local library officials said their computers are almost always busy.

“Our computer lab does see a lot of jobseekers, those that have never filled out an online application and yet they’re required to do so as kind of a test,” Ihnen said.