In a Digital World, What Does the Library Have to Offer?

Associated Press/Photo by Matt Slocum A man walks between bookshelves at the Bethlehem, Pa., public library.
Associated Press/Photo by Matt Slocum
A man walks between bookshelves at the Bethlehem, Pa., public library.

Local libraries offer more than ever before, expanding far beyond books to provide community resources often available in few other places. But according to a new survey, efforts to broaden library appeal are falling short.

According to a recently released Pew Research Center report, 90 percent of libraries offer digital books, 62 percent offer online job and career-related resources, and 35 percent offer GED or high school equivalency certifications. But when asked about these services, the 2,700 adults surveyed consistently estimated lower instances of availability in every category. While 90 percent of libraries offer digital books, for instance, only 62 percent of the respondents thought they could check out e-books from their local branch.

“It’s been a perpetual challenge,” said suburban Detroit library director Larry Neal. “I think it’s one of the largest challenges libraries have—that perception of ‘what does the library have to offer?’”

Those offerings are extensive and innovative, Neal said. They incorporate traditional services, such as large print and audio resources, but also now frequently include tutoring, integrated support and borrowing networks with local schools, free streaming and downloadable music and video content, 3-D printing services, as well as an ever-expanding catalog of digital books and magazines.

Like many other publicly funded institutions, a combination of declining revenue streams and swelling demand for a more diverse array of resources has forced libraries to prove their relevance.

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SOURCE: WORLD Mag
Laura Edghill, The Associated Press contributed to this report.