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There Are Many Reasons Why Libraries Are Essential

I want this section of my site, especially, to grow and change with time. It will (eventually) encompass quick thoughts, famous quotes, and longer essays about why all sorts of libraries matter to society. I’d like it to be a resource for everyone who is standing up for libraries and their employees.

I welcome your ideas and contributions. Contact me with your own reasons Why Libraries Are Essential, and I may post them here (if you permit me). Include your name, organization, and city/state if you’d like me to publish that info.

♦ Libraries are portals to all of the world’s knowledge. And librarians make sure that knowledge continues to be recorded and saved for the future, even as information-storage devices and formats change.

♦ The information kept in libraries helps everyday people start their own small businesses, which helps grow the economy.

♦ If libraries are not essential, then why have some of the world’s smartest and richest people (such as Andrew Carnegie and Bill Gates) poured their time and money into them?

♦ There is much more to doing real research than typing a few words into a search engine such as Google. Librarians are trained to do high-level research, which supports scientists, doctors, lawyers, professors, writers, government officials, and other important professionals every single day. Without the aide of librarians, all of these people would be making decisions without having all of the relevant knowledge they need on their topics.

♦ Librarians offer basic computer classes for anyone who want to get up to speed without paying for long-term, expensive classes.

♦ Libraries are economically efficient. Their model of sharing allows them to serve many people with few resources. And they often join to create consortia in order to buy hardware, software, and information at lower group prices. Libraries often have exceptionally high rates of Return on Investment; some have been measured at more than 600% ROI. (See one example at http://www.mtlaurel.lib.nj.us/valuinglibraries.pdf. There’s a long report at  http://www.clpgh.org/about/economicimpact/CLPCommunityImpactFinalReport.pdf; see pg #10, which is pg 15 of the pdf.) This means that librarians are excellent stewards of public monies; they use their budgets carefully and get the most value out of every dollar. Contrast this to the way many corporations waste money.

♦ Many public libraries offer after-hours homework help, via online services that they subscribe to in order to support students’ learning.

♦ Librarians have always been major defenders of intellectual freedom, long before most people even knew what it was. This means that they are watchdogs on topics like free speech, copyright, privacy, and the right to know what governments and corporations are doing. They and their associations lobby for these rights and fight alongside other citizens to preserve them.


♦ Librarians have actually saved lives by providing information to doctors who were dealing with difficult cases.

♦ Only a tiny fraction of the world’s information is available for free on the internet. But all of it is available through libraries.

♦ Librarians are the original, and still the best, search engines.

♦ Libraries have always been “green,” because they purchase a limited number of items that many people can share. For instance, people can borrow DVDs, magazines, and books rather than every person having to buy his or her own copy. Likewise, people can use shared computers, photocopiers, fax machines, and even meeting rooms.

♦ Libraries serve a vital social service by helping bridge the gap between the haves and the have nots, especially when it comes to literacy and computer skills training.

♦ Libraries offer services and products that level the intellectual playing field. That means that they allow people of any income level or background to access high-quality information, to use computers, or to borrow what they want. The existence of libraries ensures that knowledge and technology are available to everyone, not just to those who can afford their own. This is more than charity work; this helps raise the education levels of society as a whole.

♦ Studies have shown that the presence of libraries is good for towns and cities; people find more value in areas that have libraries nearby. And they have rated libraries higher than other public services in professionally conducted polls.

♦ Libraries have been around for 5,000 years. If they were not essential institutions, they would have died out long ago. (The first ones appeared in what’s known as the “fertile crescent” or “cradle of civilization” in Southwest Asia, according to The Library: An Illustrated History by Stuart A. P. Murray.  http://www.alastore.ala.org/detail.aspx?ID=2643 )

♦ Libraries change lives. In fact, they do it so well and so often that there has been an annual Libraries Change Lives Award in the U.K. since 1992. (http://www.infotoday.com/mls/sep09/Clark.shtmlhttp://www.infotoday.com/mls/jul05/dye.shtml)

♦ Libraries are spaces where people of all ages can practice lifelong learning.

♦ Some say that the internet and e-books make libraries unnecessary. But they haven’t made bookstores unnecessary, have they?

From Other Sources

♦ The Atlantic published an editorial called “Rethinking Government: Why We Need Library Rental Fees” on July 21, 2011. On July 27, it published a response from ALA Executive Director Keith Michael Fiels called “Why We Need Free Public Libraries More Than Ever.”  The many comments on both pieces showcase how people feel about public libraries, both positive and negative.

♦ ALA has a web page called “Tough Questions and Answers” that includes suggested responses to questions such as “Won’t computers and the Internet put libraries out of business?” and “With all this new technology, why do we even need librarians these days?”

♦ There’s a post on the Douglas County (Colorado) Libraries website from director Jamie LaRue that contains “7 Arguments for Building New Libraries.” While this is about constructing actual buildings, some are broad enough to cover why libraries matter overall.

♦ SLA has a page on the Value of the Information Professional. It includes this: “Information professionals play a unique role in gathering, organizing, and coordinating access to the best available information sources for the organization, understanding the critical need of turning that information into usable knowledge.”

♦ SLA has a list of Value Resources that includes links to reports, abstracts, and articles about how special librarians deliver value to their parent organizations.

♦  American Libraries magazine published a new version of an old article called “12 Ways Libraries Are Good for the Country.” It has good reasons and nice quotes you can use for presentations, signature files, etc.

♦  The Vancouver Sun published an article called “Public Libraries: We Need Them More Than Ever” written by the chairwoman of the Vancouver PL’s board. Two of its great quotes: “Indeed the development of the Internet – far from threatening libraries as some opponents of public services wishfully want us to believe – has created a whole new need for libraries, librarians, and the information management and facilitation services they offer.” and “Having a public library contributes to the development of human capital and the social infrastructure of the community.”

♦ In response to a June 2012 post on Forbes.com that said “The low pay rank and estimated growth rank make library and information science the worst master’s degree for jobs right now,” ALA President Maureen Sullivan wrote a reply that detailed the value of all types of librarians. She began with “While it is true that for some individuals [profit and growth] are the principal focus, for librarians the primary motivation is job satisfaction derived from the opportunity to make a significant difference in the lives of others. Librarians find fulfillment in their work because they  provide essential services for patrons of public, school, college, university and other libraries.” Sullivan gives various examples of librarians doing vital work for the public good.