Do we still need libraries?
I recently saw a news report out of Chicago that asked whether libraries were still needed. Some people interviewed said yes; others said no. One person in the "no" camp apparently believes we can get whatever information we need from the Internet.
The Internet? Excuse me while I break into paroxysms of laughter.
Yes, there's a lot of information available via the Internet, but I remind you of (Theodore) Sturgeon's Law: "95 percent of everything is crud." How do you, John and Jane Q. Citizen, really know what's worthwhile on the Internet and what's not? Okay, if you have some expertise in a particular field, you'd likely know what websites with data about that field are worthwhile, and which aren't; but what about subjects with which you're not familiar? That's where librarians come in. They can help you separate the wheat from the chaff among "information" floating around on the Internet. That's part of their job. That's what they're trained for.
Libraries also provide patrons with access to databases that aren't available through the Internet. As I mentioned in an entry last September, one such resource the Detroit Public Library has is a business database called Reference USA. With it, people who want to start a business can conduct market analyses, among other things.
According to the Detroit Public Library's website, other online databases it offers include:
Business and Company Profiles ASAP.
"Full text articles for business, finance, management, and industry periodicals with a full text directory of global, private and public companies."
Business and Company Resource Center.
"Wide variety of global business information including company profiles, industry rankings, industry statistics, investment reports, major business events and more."
Encyclopedia of Small Business.
"Designed to provide entrepreneurs with how-to information that they can apply to their own business. Contains 600 detailed articles and overviews of all the key information needs of small business owners, including financing, financial planning, business plan creation, market analysis, sales strategy, tax planning, and human resource issues."
And General Business File ASAP.
"Analyze company performance and activity, industry events and trends as well as the latest in management, economics and politics. Access to a combination of broker research reports, trade publications, newspapers, journals and company directory listings with full text and images available."
And that's just one subject area (business) and one library system. If you live in another community in Michigan, chances are that your library has access to those and/or other databases. And if it doesn't, many are accessible through the Michigan eLibrary system.
Many such databases either can't be accessed over the Internet, or cost a lot of money. Why pay for a subscription to such a database (especially if you need to keep a close watch on your budget) when your public library (and/or the Michigan eLibrary) already subscribes?
Many libraries also provide computer and Internet access to its patrons. Don't have a computer and/or can't afford to get online? The library can help you out. Likewise, if you're not familiar with the Internet and/or E-Mail.
Lets not forget, of course, that libraries allow you to check out books, magazines, DVDs, CDs, and other such materials. To get an idea of how much of a savings libraries provide, check out the Library of Michigan's Return on investment calculator:
Over the past year, I've not only checked out roughly 50 books (both from my own library and through the Michigan eLibrary system), but I've also gotten CDs, DVDs, and a number of lectures from the Great Courses series. And some of those lectures would have set me back more than $200 if I'd bought them directly from the company.
Especially in these tough economic times, libraries provide invaluable services. As with other entities, businesses and individuals, they may need to make budget cuts; but it would be a major mistake to eliminate libraries entirely.
One person interviewed for that Chicago news report mentioned libraries ordering paperback versions of books as a possible cost saving measure. That might work in some cases, but you should also weigh the cost differences in purchasing a hardcover vs. a paperback against the expected lifetime of the book. Obviously (and this is entirely hypothetical) a $30 hardcover that lasts for 30 years before needing to be replaced is a better deal in the long run than a $8.00 paperback that only lasts for 10 years.
And, of course, you wouldn't want to just get the abridged paperback versions of dictionaries or thesauri.
This video, sponsored by the Michigan Library Association, discusses the benefits of the Michigan eLibrary. One such benefit cited is a savings of $72 million by combining resources across libraries throughout the state.
Copyright 2010 Patrick Keating
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