Libraries Work to Offer 21st Century Solutions to Remain Relevant

In the era of pocket-sized technology, 4G mobile internet speeds, digital music and movie subscriptions and more, libraries are working hard to fight an image of culturally-obsolete warehouses for dusty outdated books and places for senior citizens to learn basic computer skills.

An obstacle that still impacts budgetary decisions is that many library systems still utilize patron attendance for determining their relevance in their local communities. In the interest of maintaining and strengthening their  patronage, libraries would do well to also measures statistics such as digital downloads, website traffic, social media, and total online searches to determine how well they are meeting the needs of their local populations to give them a more rounded out view of their library usage.

Once a specific library budget is determined and approved for the year, a significant amount of that budget is time and time again “wasted” on items that are then subject to damage, diminishing interest, theft, loss, and lack of return. Libraries are still trapped in buying print editions of books, magazines, newspapers, CDs and DVDs. However, with the shift towards digital lending, libraries are making digital downloads available to their patrons and reducing the concern of damaged or lost items. Digital solutions like these “kill two birds with one stone” as they generally provide library patrons with more borrowing options while cutting the library’s maintenance and upkeep costs. By emphasizing and expanding their digital offerings, libraries can properly tackle issues of falling patron engagement, diminishing importance in the eyes of their communities, limited accessibility and expiring catalogues.

By  taking advantage of digital content providers like OverDrive and 3M for ebooks and audiobooks and PressReader for digital newspapers and magazines, libraries are able to offer their patrons instant access to a wide variety of digital content, compliments of the library. These partnerships are often considered expensive investments for libraries, but they result in long-term savings since digital content remains in tact, cannot be lost or destroyed, and are available all hours of the day.

Libraries around the country are currently facing a different type of dilemma, in that many local public libraries are housed in outdated, undersized facilities. With money invested in new libraries, the end result can mean even less funding available for purchasing new content. If libraries were to be seen more as simply a location to house the servers that provide the content rather than a warehouse for books and oversized, underpowered desktop computers, their relevance in this time of mobile devices would actually increase for local patrons.

One of the services that libraries will always provide for their communities is the catch-all center for language, learning, and culture. Digital or physical, the library serves as a resource for people who need to sharpen their career and language skills. The library also doubles as a community meeting center where things like voter registration drives, campaign debates, and roundtable discussions take place. In order to continue to keep their doors open and offer important services in the lives of citizens, libraries have to adapt their day-to-day offerings to keep up.

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