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Stott: Libraries still relevant to life

Published: Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Jan. 11, 2013 12:09 a.m. CDT

Technology is infiltrating deep into our daily lives. It has rendered many things less necessary than they used to be.

Land-line phones are one example. With a cellphone in nearly everyone’s pocket, that old-fashioned cordless is a lot less crucial. Email has eradicated the need for a postage stamp when corresponding.

Even some buildings are becoming less necessary. A lot of people now work from home instead of at an office, connected wirelessly to their coworkers. Others get degrees through the Internet, never setting foot in a classroom.

Are library buildings doomed to the same fate? Books, magazines and newspapers are now available electronically. Hardbound and paperback novels have been replaced with downloads on iPads, Kindles and other tablets.

Personal computers, tablets and smartphones are becoming more commonplace. Technology is generally making people more capable of receiving services remotely, and that includes materials typically provided by libraries.

Despite these technological shifts, library districts in DeKalb County are confident in the necessity of the brick-and-mortar building.

The Daily Chronicle reported Tuesday that Sandwich is the latest of four county communities to plan facility expansions. Millions of local and state dollars are being spent to redevelop, expand and maintain community libraries.

Some might argue that libraries are a waste of precious tax dollars and grant money.

That might be true if libraries’ only function was to provide community reading material.

Instead, let’s acknowledge (and embrace) the shift libraries are making to become community centers.

Libraries now provide meeting space for various groups. They offer classes, and staff members can provide information and assistance.

Libraries provide valuable Internet access to infrequent users and low-income residents. Parents who might bring their children to a park in the summer can bring them to the library when it is cold. Similar to a YMCA, libraries give community members a place to be.

Some library functions are being replicated by new technology. Fewer books may be checked out, but there is not a shortage of operations. There is also no replacement for the community meeting area, the quiet and calm workspace, the safe after-school haven.

It is important to acknowledge the flexibility and adaptation of local libraries. They are embracing technology to better serve the communities.

They allow patrons to “rent” materials to be used electronically. They provide computers, high-speed Internet and other technological commodities as quickly as they can afford them.

Libraries aren’t becoming obsolete; their purpose is changing. Rather than associating libraries with just books, we should consider them community mainstays.

• Lauren Stott is a Maple Park native and a graduate student at Northern Illinois University in the master of public administration program. She can be reached at lauren_stott@yahoo.com.

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