The demise of the public library has repeatedly been forecast practically since the advent of DSL access to the Internet. With the world going ever more digital, the thinking has gone, who will need to traipse into that hushed building to track down a copy of the latest best seller or paw through musty copies of old texts to do research for homework?
Yet now comes an answer that is both predictable and surprising.
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Yes, people do have ready access to books and research online and in new digital formats that can replace the traditional bound-paper book. But guess where people are finding material in those formats?
That's right. The public library.
The trend is especially evident, as a Daily Herald story this week by staff writer Russell Lissau described, during these difficult economic times. Job seekers are crowding libraries across the suburbs to get access to employment websites and to participate in scheduled programs aimed at helping them find opportunities to apply for jobs and be better prepared for winning them.
Whether people are unemployed or just looking for a career change, "they come here first," Arlington Heights librarian Shannon Scanlan told Lissau. And it's not just to use the computers. Libraries in Arlington Heights and elsewhere have set up business centers, special classes and meetings with consultants, all critical functions for individuals looking to make a career move.
But jobs are just one topic of interest that libraries are tapping into. Topics ranging from quilting to feature films attract standing-room-only audiences. Many libraries have family movie nights that include opportunities for discussion as well as entertainment. Many offer homework and school assistance for students in elementary and high school.
Perhaps ironically, the growth of interest in digital books has also caused a resurgence in use of the library. Mount Prospect Public Library Director Marilyn Genther told the Daily Herald's Matt Arado for a separate story this week that e-book checkouts doubled between 2010 and 2011 and, since access became available last fall for Kindle users, "the demand has been huge."
So, libraries are flourishing through this kind of creative adaptation. The Mount Prospect library, Arado wrote, circulated more than a million items last year, its highest number ever.
And note that this is all supplemental. If you're so inclined -- and many, many people are -- you can still check out a traditional hard-cover copy of the latest spy thriller, romantic love story or historical tome. You can still lug an armful of research magazines into a study room.
But now in addition, thanks to a mind set of adaptability and community service, public libraries have shown how to embrace new technologies to meet timeless needs.