The tweeter was implying that while libraries are important, they are not essential. I could not disagree more.
After I got over my initial outrage at the comment, it occurred to me: this individual is intelligent and engaged in his community. He’s exactly the type of person we need to support libraries. So why does he think this way? And if he thinks this way, maybe there are others that agree? Although it may be obvious to librarians why libraries are essential, there are those who believe that libraries will soon be obsolete, especially with the supposed decline of print (although there are plenty of statistics that show that print books are still more popular than eBooks).
What these people don't understand is that libraries are not just buildings in which to store books. It’s our job to advocate for the essential roles of libraries in our communities, and so I’ve compiled my list of reasons why libraries are not a want or a luxury - they are an absolute, essential need.
- Libraries are the great equalizer
Libraries are open to all. The space, programs, and collections are free and available to everyone, regardless of their socioeconomic status, class, gender, or ethnicity. Libraries provide a place where everyone can access high-quality information and the tools and space they need to be empowered. This is particularly important for new Canadians and low-income families.
- Libraries bridge the digital divide
As more and more of our lives take place online, from banking to socializing, those without access to technology such as computers and the internet are at a serious disadvantage. Many policy-makers argue that the internet is now as essential as electricity. Libraries provide free computer and internet access for all and training in the skills needed to use new technology.
- Libraries promote information literacy
Libraries are more than just a collection of books and resources. Libraries play a key role in developing needed information literacy and digital literacy skills through programs and services. UNESCO argues that information literacy is a critical skill that empowers people to achieve personal and occupational goals. On a broader level, numerous studies and organizations recognize that information literacy benefits society as a whole, helping produce more active citizens and boosting the economy (University of West Florida, OECD, Chinien & Boutin).
- Libraries as a fundamental human right
Access to information is a fundamental human right based on article 19 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration on Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” By extension, information technologies and the skills to use them effectively are also a human right. Libraries provide both access to information as well as training in the information literacy and digital literacy skills needed to effectively use information.
- Libraries build community
A big part of what libraries do are collections and services. But the biggest thing that libraries do is provide community infrastructure. Libraries are community spaces that provide opportunities for all people to engage and create. Libraries provide a platform people to gather, share and access resources. In this way, libraries create closer communities and more engaged community members. Libraries are community spaces and their success contributes to the success of the wider community.
The role of libraries is shifting in the digital age. Libraries used to be largely defined by their collections – by the physical items they could offer. But libraries have always been about more than just collections - they have been about putting information in the hands of those that need it and providing a community and supportive environment in which to engage in that information and learn. With the rise of digital media, the library's work as a community builder is becoming our defining mark.
So why are libraries a need? For all of these reasons I’ve listed and many more. Libraries are a need because they help ensure all of your citizens have equal opportunity. Libraries are a need because they provide a fundamental human right. Libraries are a need because they build your community.
Please share why you think libraries are a need in the comments section.