While at a session on Library 2.0 at ALA Conference last week, one of the speakers brought up an interesting point about how the library is dying. At first, I really disagreed with him. Library stats are on the rise, especially with the recession, right? People are discovering it's more economically to check out a book than to buy one. The honest answer is yes, but not enough people are learning this fast enough to really make a difference. One only has to look Amazon's revenue to know that isn't the case. Books are still being bought, albeit at much lower prices. People aren't thinking they can hop over to the local public library to find an old movie to watch tonight; they prefer to wait for Netflix to drop in their mailbox rather than leave the house. No one thinks about the resources of your local public college or university, instead they jump on Google and find the Wikipedia page for whatever research they need to complete. Who is thinking that the library is a great place to go to find the latest Wii game?
So what can we, as librarians, do to prevent the death of the library in the face of all this digital awareness and sheer laziness that has taken over our society? Is the death of the library preventable or are we just waiting the inevitable?
I don't know if the library, at least the public library in it's current form, can survive. But right now I believe our best option is advertising what we have. Let the people in community know what's out there and how they can take advantage of it. Have a great collection of genealogy records that no one uses? Speak to a local group about sponsoring a "find an ancestor" day or something to that effect in your town. Publicize the event to the extreme via your website, your blog, your Twitter, whatever you use. Don't have an updated website, a person to blog, or a Twitter account? No fear, this is the perfect opportunity to establish one. But even the best websites, most insightful/informative blogs and Tweets go unnoticed if you don't advertise them. Make sure everything that carries your library's name on it has your website. Make sure your website is clearly labeled and consistently updated with news and events. Create a facebook page; anything to get your name out there and people in your library.
Tons of people don't use the public library because they don't know what's available to them. I bet there are a lot of people in your community who don't know they can check out video games or schedule a personal research consultation. They probably forgot that you have a ton of books/articles/magazines on job hunting, resume writing, and interviewing techniques. More than likely, there are a good number of elderly in the community who want to get online, but don't know how. They aren't aware that you teach (or could if you had enough people sign up) free classes about using the computer and the Internet.
These are all ways to reach an underserved population. The public library will die if we continue to only serve the serious readers and moms with small children. Reach out to others in your community; plan events and blog about them. Post pictures on your website. Have contests and drawings for patron of the week that offer good prizes. Do anything and everything to keep people from going the easy way and turning to the Internet as their only source of information. If we try hard enough, maybe we can keep the library around for a while longer.