This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

December 17, 2009 - 7 arguments for building new libraries

Recently, one of our employees moved to the Midwest to become the director of a library whose main building was destroyed by a thousand year flood. On the one hand, many members of the community are working to restore that library.

On the other, this former employee tells me he's hearing more and more often the refrain that building libraries just isn't necessary. Not in the 21st century. Not in the age of the Internet.

I disagree. After I thought about it for a bit, I could come up with at least 7 arguments for why we still need to build libraries. But I don't see why we have to stop at 7. Feel free to add to the list.

Argument#1 - The library is an anchor store and traffic generator. Libraries pull a cross-section of the public, all ages, all day long, through our doors. We are the business that never goes out of business. (Of course, the scheduled closing of 4 out of 7 libraries in Aurora at the end of this month indicates that this rule, too, has its exceptions.) Yet it remains true that even in a down economy, library use goes UP. You want your business to be by a library. If you're planning a development, you want the liveliness of a public building in the heart of it.

Argument #2 - Library construction is a powerful economic stimulus, especially in a recession. People often overlook that a public construction project employs architects, general contractors, local tradespeople, local suppliers, and so on, which in turn generates sales for local restaurants, gas stations, etc.

Argument #3 - Library buildings are a bridge over the digital divide. Libraries are about access, and our record of allowing digitally disadvantaged people - poor, young, elderly, etc. - to use public technology to bootstrap themselves out of technological ghettos is real.

Argument #4 -The Internet encourages, not replaces, library use. Every time we add more Internet terminals, the use of everything else goes UP - more books checked out, more browsing, more magazines read, more reference questions, more program attendance. There's a lot of data about this, going all the way back to 1999, and still holding true (see www.lrs.org/documents/fastfacts/163cirvinet.pdf).

Argument #5 - Library buildings foster community, both through providing meeting space and hosting programs that foster lifelong learning. Genetically, socially, we are wired for interaction. Libraries serve the role of both common and neutral ground.

Argument #6 - Library buildings manifest and reinforce a statement of community values. The library is a tangible sign of a community's commitment to individual inquiry, a safety net for the young and old, a secular sanctuary for people who need public space either for public contact or for private pondering. I remember pondering this comment from a member of the Greatest Generation: "In my day, we lived in modest homes, but built significant public monuments. These days, we live in palaces, and build government buildings out of split-face concrete."

Argument #7 - Library buildings are an investment in our children's brains. The children's storytime - featuring real live people from your own community - is our nation's single most potent strategy for sowing literacy in the land. The library is a space where even preschool children meet live performers, then are loaded up with materials to further deepen the experience. The presence of location offering trained staff to promote literacy and learning through readers advisor work, reference work, teaching, adds a resource to a community that not only employs local people today, but helps raise people who are employable tomorrow.

But that's just off the top of my head. I'd be interested from hearing more from our community. What's the value of a library building?

LaRue's Views are his own.

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