Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Thursday, February 18, 2010

When was the last time you visited a library?

With the advent of the Internet and the World Wide Web and the digitization of nearly everything, we have many sources predicting the demise of libraries and even books. The fundamental question is whether digitizing paper based information resources will obviate the need for either books or libraries? Some kinds of paper resources are already relatively unused. Watch any older movie and see someone go into a phone booth, or look up a phone number in a phone book and you can appreciate the magnitude of the changes in our information based communication system. However, just this last week I drove to our local public library to look for an obituary. Of course, we had searched online for the information and my daughter found the publication date, but there was no online copy of the actual newspaper article, at least not without going to a subscription service. At the library, I found the obituary article on microfilm and ended up paying twenty cents for the copy from the film.

Is it likely that the library's part in supplying this information will disappear like phone books? Probably. As more newspapers are online, the demand for local access to the archives will decrease. But here is a contrary observation, how many of you have read an entire book from an online source? How many are willing to sit for hours in front of a computer screen for the purpose of reading an entire book? Even with various electronic devices from cell phones to hand held screens, when was the last time you read an entire book on your cell phone? Interestingly, recent statistics show a dramatic increase in the number of books published although sales are down due to the economic downturn.

Libraries are vulnerable to economic and societal pressures more than mere technological challenges. How many elementary school libraries have been closed for budget purposes? If young children have never been to a library, why would they oppose the closing of libraries as adults?

From statistics, it isn't so much an issue of paper based books vs. electronic media, it is more an issue of reading at all. Only about 50% of all Americans even read one book in 2008. About one third of the people who did read a book were over the age of 55. This statistic also likely indicates who uses libraries.

I don't have any statistics, but genealogists seem to be much more likely to visit a library than not. But I do find many of the people I talk to about their genealogy have never been to a library specifically to search out their family and of those that have been once or twice, their experience is described as frustrating and unproductive. This response probably comes from a lack of prior experience in using library facilities.

So, when was the last time you went to a library? Not just the large regional or national ones, but your own local library? Do you know what types of information are available? Do you use the library for your own research? Think about the questions and think about the answers.


  1. Well, the last time we went to a library was about three weeks ago. But we were planning to go today or tomorrow. But then, we hardly ever watch TV so we actually have time to read!

  2. How sadly true. If we don't take the children with us to the library how will they even learn what is available. And by the way I just returned several hours ago from ours as I have some Illinois newspapers on microfilm on inter-library loan and get to enjoy reading at my own pace about my ancestors. Just learned this morning that my three year old mother and her parents were getting ready to spend the winter in sunny California in 1903!!! Just wonder how her father took that much time off of work??


  3. I last went to the library on Friday to do research on a grant-funded undergraduate research project. I don't think libraries are going to go away; I do think they will change, as they have changed since I was a librarian back in the 1970s.

    I have four library cards. I frequent various libraries and other archives. But then, I'm a research nerd who loves the quiet of the library, who loves ferreting out facts from old documents.

    I have used the libraries around me for family research as well as my academic research. Can't live without them.

    If the day ever does come when there are no books and no libraries, I do not want to be alive on that day.