Do we still need public libraries?

librariesGood question.

Some people think that the Internet and the all-encompassing digital age it brought means that we don’t. After all, information is available to anyone, at any time, with access to a computer. So just Google it!

Standing in opposition to that simplistic argument is a movement that views the expansion of the role of public libraries as incredibly important to our society and culture. Here’s what the Aspen Institute says in a report calling for a “re-envisioning” of the public library.

“But this new world of ‘information plenty’ creates new, essential skills, such as the ability to gain value from information and produce new knowledge. Access to digital networks and digital literacy skills are essential for full participation in modern society. Economic, educational, civic and social opportunities are tied to a whole new set of knowledge and skills that barely existed a generation ago, and people without these skills or access to this information abundance are quickly left behind. Public libraries can be at the center of these changes: a trusted community resource and an essential platform for learning, creativity and innovation in the community.”

At the heart of the re-envisioning (also known as “reimagining”) movement is a goal already embraced by many Junior Leagues – making the public library a vital center of the community in ways that go well beyond the physical structure of the building, with its stacks of books and rows of reading tables.

For example, the Junior League of Sacramento has partnered with the Sacramento Public Library to use gardens to educate Sacramento-area families on healthy food choices and nutrition. Each Read & Feed Teaching and Demonstration Garden serves as a focal point for community activities that bring diverse community members together across culturally different backgrounds.

The Junior League of Summit is supporting an initiative of the Summit Public Library to bring together diverse groups of Spanish- and English-speaking families to the library. Among JLS’ contributions was sponsoring a book fair to raise funds to purchase Spanish language books for the library.

The Junior League of Birmingham (AL) partners with the Birmingham Public Library’s Family Place Library, part of a national network of children’s librarians who believe that literacy begins at birth and that libraries can help build healthy communities by nourishing healthy families. A grant from JLB was instrumental in helping to jumpstart the initiative in Birmingham, and League members are active volunteers in day-to-day operations.

Other Leagues are bringing libraries out into the community in innovative ways.

The Junior League of Sioux City and the Junior League of Bristol are participating in a national program called Little Free Library that creates “take a book, return a book” gathering places where neighbors share their favorite literature and stories.

And the Junior League of Tampa is bringing books and readers to neighborhoods in need through a refurbished school bus called MILO (for Mobile Interactive Literacy Opportunity), in partnership with the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County and the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library. In addition to matching kids with books they will want to read over and over, MILO gets parents involved in teaching reading skills through art activities and character-led reading.


*This article was originally published in connected, an official publication of The Association of Junior Leagues International, Inc., and has been reprinted with permission.

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