Twenty-first century librarians are on a mission to spread the word about the many free resources in their public libraries and to quash the notion that Google is the only place to get information.
“[A library] is a go-to destination for everything these days,” said Wendy Westgate, a librarian from the Exploration & Creativity Department, Engagement & Learning Division, Los Angeles Public Library. “We’re a source of information and fulfill a lot of life’s needs.
Today’s libraries offer everything from board game nights and dance perfromances to the tradiitonal array of reading and research materials, said Matt Gill, Library Manager at the West Hollywood Library. Programs offerings vary by location and include ESL classes, preventative health screenings and parent-child workshops.
Others offer special programs like LA Made, a series of lectures and performances by local artists and thinkers at libraries across Los Angeles. The interactive program has helped boost attendance and community participation at the Los Angeles Central Library and regional branches.
“With LA Made, our aim is to take advantage of the wealth of talent Los Angeles has in the humanities,” said Westgate, who helped pioneer the program.
Even with community-based programs and art experiences drawing people to the library, the role of the internet in everyday life is pervasive.
“Libraries have changed an enormous amount since [the internet],” said Susan Broman, who started her library career 22 years ago. She is currently the Acting Assistant City Librarian at the Los Angeles Public Library.
Some questions are more quickly answered by Siri and Google can provide the population of Nebraska in 0.91 seconds, but research involves much more than just reading through the top three search results, said Gill, the manager of the library in West Hollywood.
“Because Google is so easy, sometimes you forget that there’s another step to doing research,” Gill said, adding that research librarians are part of every library and now deal with questions about synthesizing and organizing information rather than just facts.
Critically evaluating sources isn’t just a skill for college research papers, it is something that can be applied to every news article populating your Twitter feed, he said.
The high cost of libraries
“The cost of keeping a library open increases more than inflation because it’s a people-heavy institution so the future is uncertain,” said Michael Buckland, a retired librarian and professor of librarianship at the University of California, Berkeley.
“The best way for libraries to survive is to focus on why they are important and to provide a range of resources,” he said.
Other librarians echoed this sentiment, adding that libraries are evolving to include more encompassing programs and multimedia experiences.
According to Gill, online databases are some of the least utilized resources available through the library. The library’s virtual resources make is possible to take advantage of library perks without physically coming to a branch. A Los Angeles Public Library Card grants access to the digital version of The New York Times, educational tutorials on Lynda.com and Hoopla, a multimedia streaming platform.
Libraries can serve as a defense against the spread of fake news, Buckland added.
“They provide a range of reliable resources which is quite different than social media or cable news,” he said.
According to the American Library Association, libraries are both essential to community life and to the nation’s democracy. Gill echoed the sentiment saying that libraries offer free information to anyone and everyone. Although many resources require a library card, they are free to residents of California and only require a photo ID and mailing address.
“Libraries are increasingly a place where people can come together and be a part of a community. I feel like that gets lost, especially in a city as sprawling as Los Angeles…Our role is to bind the community together,” said Broman.