The Norman Transcript


October 14, 2008

Today's public library


In 2006, the Americans for Libraries Council partnered with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to publish "Long Overdue," a report on research conducted by the nonpartisan agency Public Agenda. Researchers found when people think about their expectations of libraries today, they generally think about traditional services: remaining free of charge; providing plenty of current books for children plus numerous reference materials; staffing with friendly, knowledgeable librarians; offering convenient hours and special programs for children; maintaining the facility and organizing easy self-service.

But "Long Overdue" said the public expects more than the traditional. In our information age, libraries are viewed as key players in the technological future and not merely the "information resource of last resort." Surprisingly, advanced computer users and families with higher income are even more likely to use public libraries and the technology services they offer than others.

"Long Overdue" outlines four areas of opportunity for public libraries that resonate most with the public: providing stronger services for teens; helping address illiteracy and poor reading skills among adults; affording ready access to information about government services; and ensuring even greater access to computers for all. (It is crucial that public libraries step up and serve as a source for government information today because there are fewer and fewer print sources of government information.)

The PEW Internet and American Life Project, published in 2007, found that young adults ages 18-29 are the heaviest users of libraries among those users who consult multiple information sources. They also are the most likely library visitors for any purpose. This surprising but encouraging finding is certainly true in the Norman Public Library.

The Urban Libraries Council recently published "Making Cities Stronger: Public Library Contributions to Local Economic Development." They said public libraries serve their cities by improving early literacy and school readiness through library programs and collections; building workforce participation through adult literacy and computer education; serving the information needs of small businesses; and through their presence, having a positive impact on downtowns, commercial areas and neighborhoods.

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