Mission of local libraries changing
By PHILIP KINGSTON
Published in the printed version of the Dallas Morning News on 23 August 2013.
Also available online.
In a recent editorial, The Dallas Morning News called on the city of Dallas to restore library funding, and in this time of rising revenue, that appears likely.
On the campaign trail last spring, many candidates pledged to improve our libraries, and library advocates were vocal in calling for increased funding, materials and hours of operation.
Why would we do that? Some observers are predicting the death of paper publishing within the next 10 years.
Electronic-format materials will soon be the dominant format in books, just as they have become in periodicals. We no longer need the same real estate or structures that we once did to promote public access to information.
People of all ages, even those with a deep affection for libraries, have largely ceased using libraries for borrowing paper materials.
But even with all the technology available to citizens outside libraries, there is still broad public support for and utilization of libraries.
The mission of libraries has changed to meet the needs of their communities, and their role continues to evolve. Dallas County has an adult illiteracy rate above 20 percent. Dallas public libraries have long been the premier venue for adult education delivery, primarily in the form of English classes and GED classes.
When we improve the literacy of our citizens, we give them a chance to contribute more to our community economically and socially. But think also of the personal improvement and fulfillment that we can assist our neighbors in achieving.
Those in our city who do not have access to computers or the Internet depend on our libraries for access to critical educational information, job-search information and news.
Libraries across the country are also implementing new resources and programs to serve neighborhoods, in response to local demand.
Even in neighborhoods that do not rely on libraries for access to computers or the Internet, libraries are offering innovative services to their communities.
New libraries offer collaborative workspaces for students and civic organizations. By offering technology hubs, libraries can host and enhance the work of neighborhood groups, student groups and others.
As a part of this process of libraries seeking to serve the particular demands of their neighborhoods, flexibility of library spaces, equipment and personnel will take on a new importance.
As the economic condition of Dallas improves, we must restore the traditional library services that have enhanced our quality of life in the past while we also look to creative improvements in the services and resources our libraries provide.
Philip Kingston is the Dallas City Council member for District 14.
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