Wendy Wendt, Grand Forks, column: Real (not virtual) library meets real needs
By Wendy Wendt GRAND FORKS -- As director of the Grand Forks Public Library, I am certainly pleased to learn that Garry Pearson has four library cards ("GF should invest in a digital -- not bricks-and-mortar -- library," Page A4, March 25). But I...
By Wendy Wendt
GRAND FORKS -- As director of the Grand Forks Public Library, I am certainly pleased to learn that Garry Pearson has four library cards ("GF should invest in a digital -- not bricks-and-mortar -- library," Page A4, March 25).
But I'm not so enthusiastic about his conclusions regarding the future of libraries.
Times have changed, and libraries have changed accordingly. No longer does the library serve only "citizens of good deportment" with the purpose of "edification of the mind," as it did in 1892 when the Grand Forks Public Library first was established.
Thankfully, our libraries also are not the dark and dusty caverns they once were, with a cranky elderly woman, her hair in a bun, shushing anyone who raised his or her voice above a whisper. Libraries now are vital, dynamic community centers that provide information, connection and inspiration to all people -- regardless of age, race or economic status.
I do not believe books or libraries ever will disappear. The first library was established in Egypt around 300 B.C., and libraries still are going strong more than 2,000 years later.
Of course, the core mission of libraries has evolved as society's needs have changed. Once the home of rare and expensive scrolls accessible by the few, libraries now are repositories of a variety of materials and formats equally accessible to all.
The important thing is that libraries are not just about books. Libraries provide access to information in a variety of formats (electronic databases, DVDs, books and music on CD and so on).
Libraries also provide access to technology and the Internet. Despite Pearson's experience with UND law students, many public library users do not have a home computer and/or Internet access.
The public library helps bridge the digital divide.
Online books are a wonderful phenomenon, but there is a fee to download all but the oldest books. As yet another step in the library's evolution, we are investigating ways to provide downloadable e-books in the near future.
In addition, the library will keep providing regular books and other materials as long as they are used. And regardless of the format, library materials always can be checked out free of charge.
Most important, public libraries provide a human touch that technology just can't replicate. The primary mission of the public library is to provide connection and superior customer support to the community. That can't be duplicated by technology. Just ask anyone who has been trapped in the automated answering-machine world that customer service elsewhere often entails.
While UND serves a typically younger population who are able to afford higher education and have grown up with technology, the public library serves all ages and income levels. The library provides children's story times, adult book clubs, teen events, senior citizen outreach and more.
These are personal experiences that cannot be provided by a downloadable book.
Our statistics from the Grand Forks Public Library solidly document increased usage. In 2009, more than 800 people a day checked out some type of material. The number of items checked out totaled more than 2,200 a day.
We keep consistent documentation of traffic counts and collection movement. Our usage numbers have risen significantly and consistently over the years.
The library now serves more than double the number of people it was designed to serve back in the 1970s when it was built.
Have libraries changed dramatically through the years? Certainly. Is the Grand Forks Public Library poised to evolve as society's preferences for media consumption change? Yes.
Will investment in the bricks and mortar for a new library be a decision, as Pearson contends, "to spend money on a building that shortly will be totally obsolete"? Definitely not.
I invite Herald readers to stop in today and see for themselves what the Grand Forks Public Library offers -- free of charge -- to all county residents.
Wendt is director of the Grand Forks Public Library.