Saturday, September 10, 2016

Public libraries critical to community - September 9, 2016

Our county libraries are bragging they are Pokemon Go gyms, where players of the game can capture virtual Pokemons. 

This phone game is all the rage now with kids through adults. I know a minister who plays and is proud his church property is home to three Poke stops.

I’m happy to see the library promoting this on its website.  Staffers understand that being a Pokemon gym is a wonderful way to attract patrons who may have forgotten about the library.

Are public libraries obsolete?  It is understandable to wonder this in the world of broadband, eBooks, Netflix and are other digital media services.  The library does not seem to have the same gravitation pull it once did for many of us.

In reality, our public libraries are more important than ever.

Not everyone can afford a computer, or if they can, also afford broadband. Yet most jobs these days require you to fill out online applications.

Our public libraries and their free computers and internet access let those folks find jobs. It also gives all of us a critical backup to our home infrastructure. If our computer breaks the night before an important project is due, we can always go to the library.  In a recent column on contingency plans for when things go badly, the library was an important component.

Have you converted to ebooks?  I love having a book always with me on my phone.  While perhaps not as   tactilely satisfying as a paper book, the availability of reading material wherever I am is nice.

And while I do not mind buying an ebook I might re-read, or at least need to refer to in the future, I do balk at buying the latest best seller. I always checked out those from the library, and did not mind if I had to wait a year or two for them.  Did you know you can reserve and check out ebooks from the library as well? 

Our libraries also give us access to online tools we could subscribe to ourselves, but likely would not because the subscriptions are too expensive just for occasional use.

The latest is, which has thousands of career oriented videos.  Without the library, Lynda costs $30 a month.  Via the Prince William County library, all those video are free.  If you are looking to learn new business skills, these videos are a fantastic resource. There are videos on marketing, design, programming, writing and many other topics.  There are even certificate programs you can complete to show future employers the new skills you have acquired.

The library also has a host of online databases we can access with just our library card number. A few can only be accessed while at the library, but most can be used from home by library patrons.  Back copies of the New York Times and Washington Post are available, legal and taxation files, military and intelligence databases, and many others are readily available.

And of course you can search the library's catalog online, and reserve books.  When the book becomes available you will be notified by email so you can get it.

Your passport is your library card, available for free by visiting any library branch.

And for all this, the library still provides reading programs for kids, a voting location, a meeting hall, a casual place for tutors to meet students and meeting places for groups and clubs.  They also have classes on computers, English as a second language and other topics.

Foremost among the programs for children is the 1,000 Books before Kindergarten program. Children get positive reinforcement for every 100 books, and special awards at the completion of the 1,000.  Research has shown that early exposure to books helps prevent reading difficulties later.  Get your child’s schooling off to a good start even before they are in school.

A public library is critical component of a vibrant community.  Recently there were thoughts of outsourcing the management of the Prince William library. I am glad we had second thoughts on that. A library’s primary measure should be the value it brings to its community, not to someone’s bottom line.

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