The Transylvania Times -

Libraries Are About Much More Than Books


March 26, 2018

Courtesy photo

This section of the local library offers a variety of audio and video tapes.

By Pam Drellow

Next month during National Library Week (April 8-14), the country will celebrate the estimated 120,000 libraries nationwide that serve Americans in many settings, ranging from public and school libraries to specialized libraries, such as Armed Forces libraries, government and medical libraries.

Whatever their structure, however, libraries are dynamic entities that have evolved greatly over the years to reflect the changing needs of the people who rely on their services. This is especially true of public libraries, which have been called "Democracy's Makerspace."

Public libraries have been around since 1731, when Benjamin Franklin founded the Library Company of Philadelphia – America's first lending library and the predecessor to the free public library.

Today's libraries are no longer book warehouses or hallowed halls of silence. Today's public library is the community's help desk, information hub and a vibrant node of civic engagement.

Libraries are a one-stop resource for information that most people could not find anywhere else – whether they're looking for the latest bestseller or background for a research project, health insurance websites or business information found via NCLive, our state's powerful collection of online resources. Early literacy is a hallmark of this nation's public libraries, which share a vision that every child is ready to read and succeed.

America's public libraries are also versatile community centers, welcoming more than 1.59 billion visitors in 2009 and lending books 2.4 billion times.  They have been called the cornerstone of a healthy community. They give people the opportunity to find jobs, explore medical research, experience new ideas and get lost in fascinating stories, while at the same time providing a sense of place for gathering and connecting with their community.

More than half of young adults and seniors living in poverty in the United States used public libraries to access the Internet. 

They used this access, among other purposes, to find work, apply to college, secure government benefits and learn about critical medical treatments.

In addition, a community's economy benefits when business people use library resources to make prudent business decisions, when employees use it to improve job skills and when entrepreneurs use the library to collaborate and work globally.

And what would the library be without the librarians and staff that serve as trusted navigators for the legions of visitors who come to them for help or advice. According to the American Library Association, librarians in public and academic libraries across the country, answer nearly 6.6 million questions every week.

The Transylvania County Library welcomes an average of 209,000 visitors every year; circulates over 206,000 print items, and 35,000 ebooks and eperiodicals. In addition, more than 18,000 people attended library programs and staff assisted more than 7,000 citizens with their smartphones, tablets and other devices.

Perhaps the most astounding fact is that all of this is free. Regardless of one's socioeconomic status, they can count on their library to provide them with the resources they need, the answers to important questions they seek, the learning experience they want at no cost. That's pretty amazing.

A Pew Internet and American Life Project study in 2013 found that 91 percent of Americans 16 years of age or older say libraries are important to their communities. Yet just 22 percent say they know most of the services their libraries offer now, and 31 percent say they know little or nothing about such offerings.

So, as we approach National Library Week in April, this might be the best time to visit the Transylvania County Library to find out what's buzzing at your local information hub. Better yet, stop by the circulation desk and join the Friends of the Library (FOL) to show your support for your public library, and visit the library online at library.transylvani

(Drellow is a board member of the Friends of the Library.)


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