I always find depictions of librarians in fiction entertaining. In Welcome to Night Vale, librarians are all-powerful, highly dangerous creatures who no one should want to encounter under any circumstances. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, librarians move through a book dimension called L-Space, armed and alert in the jungle that its never-ending shelves create.
In reality, though, most of us are pretty friendly, cardigan-wearing folk who just like to read a good book every now and then. Even if we’re actually quite harmless, many people are still reluctant to use or unfamiliar with our services. Knowledge is power, though, even if it doesn’t bear fangs, and we’re here to help you use it.
With the rise of the internet and loads of free information in the form of videos, Wikipedia articles, and even blogs just like this one, it’s no wonder people are wondering how relevant libraries are anymore. As someone who currently works in a library, allow me to weigh in on this matter. There’s a lot more to it than books, and even regarding books, there’s more than meets the eye.
Do you remember the last time you walked into a library? Perused its shelves, maybe even selected a book? Do you remember how much that library card even cost? I’ll guess the answer to that question: it was free. Many, if not all, American libraries receive funding from taxes, in order to give their services to the entire community. This means that everything they provide comes at no direct cost to you.
This fact still seems irrelevant until you consider something interesting. Libraries are one of the few public spaces in which no one demands your money for anything at all (except perhaps late fees). In a restaurant, you typically need to at least buy a drink before settling down into your table. Restaurants, local gyms, art galleries, theaters–each of these require you to have at least a few dollars to spend. This is not necessarily a bad thing, of course, but a fact of life. Libraries, on the other hand, offer a roof over your head and a place to sit for a few hours no matter how small your wallet is, and while you use the building itself, you might also take advantage of all of the other things that the place has to offer.
Libraries as Cultural Hubs
All libraries, but public libraries in particular, have always been important cornerstones of their communities. As places where large amounts of information are held, this makes sense. Many offer study spaces, guest speaker events, and seminars for a variety of subjects. The one I work at even has an art exhibition in the front and a radio station in the basement!
Basically, libraries promote culture in every possible form, and we make sure you can get it for free.
Libraries as Research Centers
As a library employee, I’ll admit I may be biased, but I think that libraries really are still important sources of information, particularly for research. The university library that I work at is more specifically oriented towards this goal. We’ve catalogued hundreds of thousands of books and decades’ worth of research about basically everything. There are government documents, newspapers, and magazines that go back to at least the 1940s, and history books about every continent or niche subject.
While walking through the stacks, I’ve kept a small list in my head of the weirder things in this category, like the relaxing effect of Tsonga beer songs, the history of swear words, and a book on teaching yourself sailing. Many of these books aren’t available online unless you buy them, but getting them for free through a library can save a huge amount of cash.
Most university libraries also allow their students to access databases with even more documents that even Google Scholar might not offer. Elsewhere, database access comes at a cost, but through a library, you won’t have to pay a cent.
As I mentioned before, the library I work at has a radio station and a small exhibition center, but that’s not where the resources stop. Even if we’re more geared for research, the library I work at has a bunch of other stuff, too. Record players on the fourth floor are there for people like me, who can’t seem to find one for sale anywhere (Here’s hoping I do eventually). There’s a sizeable comic book section on the third floor.
If you can’t find what you’re looking for out of our 817,000 books or 200,000 government documents, college libraries like mine also offer interlibrary loan. We use a web of connected libraries across the country (and even the world, if the book is that hard to find) so that we can find what you’re looking for. In a public library, there may be a small fee involved, but through campus resources, it’s already covered in your tuition.
Libraries are completely geared for sharing free information with everyone in the community, and we make it so easy to do so. Why not support your local library and find something interesting while you’re there? I promise, we don’t bite.