In a world of declining readership, libraries face an uncertain future if they fail to rebrand. Pew Research Center’s recent study of the reading habits of Americans 16-years or older has indicated a disquieting but not surprising trend—that readership of print books is declining. According to the study, 67% of adult Americans had read a book in 2012, down from 72% in 2011. Continuing the trend would mean books appealing to a niche market.
Public libraries have always been associated with books. Libraries sponsor read-a-thons, reading clubs, book groups; many libraries adopt a logo featuring an open book. Librarians regularly raise awareness of banned books and literacy readiness among children. Literacy efforts are, and should be, one crusade commonly supported by libraries.
Everyone who works at or regularly visits a public library can tell you that libraries offer so much more. We provide access to job and career advice, legal, medical, technical and governmental information. We offer meeting spaces, access to scholarly journals and magazines for browsing, computers, storytelling, games, events, education, book discussions, wireless access, volunteer opportunities, tutoring, and a nice cup of coffee. Loitering is, in fact, encouraged. Our expert staff guides anyone who asks through the wilderness of ideas, information, and entertainment. We serve all members of the public equally. No other industry can make that claim.
According to a 2012 OCLC report, 62% of library personnel surveyed indicate that borrowing books is the top reason patrons use the public library today. And that figures complies with a recent ALA study showing that 75% of library visitors come to check out books. While that is part of what we offer, it should by no means define us. In an age when printed books are increasingly seen as outmoded technology, binding the library with the notion of printed books verges on dangerously assigning the library to an anachronistic role.
So while we do provide books, our role is much greater than that. Our role reflects the interests of the city, as the demographics change the library adjusts its goals. The library is a function of the community.
In short, the challenge is to rebrand the public library image from a stodgy old warehouse of books to a true welcoming community living room that has something inside for everyone.