THE BLOG

Libraries: Are They Obsolete?

12/01/2011 05:14 pm ET | Updated Jan 31, 2012

I did a book signing at a local library the other day. In fact, I have had occasion to speak and visit several libraries in recent months. Prior to my engagements, I don't remember the last time I visited a library. I love to read, therefore I buy the books I want to read. I may read them more than once, and after I collect quite a few, will donate them to a local Salvation Army or Goodwill.

Many of the people I encounter on a daily basis are inclined to do the same. And with e-books becoming more popular, and budget cuts forcing libraries to shorten their hours or close down completely, I wondered if libraries are doomed. Even recently, Borders went out of business, and before Borders, locally-owned bookstores. One begins to wonder of the trend.

Reading seems to be out among the younger generation; they prefer their phones and computers for reading purposes.

Even the elderly are putting down their books in favor of electronic reading devices. In a way, one can't blame them. With age, eyesight fails, and increasing the size of the fonts greatly enhances the pleasure of reading.

So, does this mean people no longer need or use bookstores or libraries? On the contrary! Every library I visited was busy. Students were using the computers or the reference books. Parents and grandparents had their children sitting on their laps or on the floor as they browsed through picture books.

I asked one grandmother how often they frequented the library and she responded that they came in weekly. In fact, anytime her granddaughter visited, she wanted to know if they were going to the library. I asked what she would do if they closed their branch, and grandma stated she would be very disappointed and upset. Where else can one take a child for free and actually enjoy the outing? And what better way to encourage a child to explore their imagination other than the library?

I was also very pleased to see teenagers at work together. And even more so that they would go outside to socialize and talk. Who says one requires a Starbucks to hang out?

It is unfortunate many branches are shutting their doors. Once you shut a place down, it is difficult to re-open. Libraries are an essential fabric and foundation for our communities. They serve as a meeting place and a safe haven from the elements. They serve as an escape from reality, from a broken home, or an environment of turmoil or destruction. Neighborhoods with libraries have fewer problems with gang activity or drugs. For some reason, libraries, by an unwritten rule, are considered a free zone. Libraries serve as a place where kids and adults can relax and escape, and the best part, libraries are still free.

I am sure, as time goes by, and our reliance on electronic gadgets increases, there will be less funding provided for our beloved brick-and-mortar establishments. We must never let this happen.

Libraries are not a source of revenue, and it is getting more difficult to fund their existence. But in the long run, they pay their way by keeping kids off the streets, providing a place of comfort, and a place for them to study. If we can keep children away from danger, from succumbing to the streets and becoming a drain on their community, libraries are worth every effort we can provide.