Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Libraries in a Digital Age

The incredible growth in the number of Internet-based resources in recent years has put a significant base of knowledge at the fingertips of many home computer users, but it has also created some substantial misunderstandings about the availability of knowledge in our digital age. With access to so many web sites, e-mail services, and Usenet discussion newsgroups, some may reason that libraries are less vital than they were a decade ago. In fact, the opposite has proven to be true across the country just as it has in Carol Stream-- circulation statistics are at an all-time high and more people visited the Carol Stream Public Library last year than in any previous year.

More Than the Internet: There are many reasons to explain the continuing importance of public libraries, and much has to do with the changing nature of information retrieval. Internet web sites do offer a wealth of information, but they contain only a portion of the information that the library has amassed in its collection of books, magazines, and audio-visual materials. Further, the library has purchased subscriptions to dozens of services that provide access to specialized collections and databases not otherwise available on the Internet. They have been purchased to serve the needs of the community and often require professional assistance by members of the library staff. Remember also that there are thousands of Carol Stream residents who do not have access to modern computers or high-speed Internet access in their homes, and they rely on the library when they need to do research, complete assignments, download forms, or communicate with others.

The fact is, as libraries evolve to keep up with the many new sources of digital media, the need for more computers and work stations becomes even greater. It is this realization that also brings us to one of the most compelling needs facing the Carol Stream Public Library and a prime justification for the construction of a new building. At present, there are only 7 computers available for public use in the Adult section of the library, and not all of those have Internet access. In the Children’s Department, the limitations are even more pronounced with only two computers with Internet access. There are many classrooms in Carol Stream schools that have more computers for children to use, and those classrooms serve between 20-30 students. The Carol Stream Public Library serves over 40,000 residents.

Very few Internet-based computers are available for adult patrons at the library

The Children's Department has only two Internet workstations for young patrons

The Need is Urgent: The library staff recognizes the urgent need for many more computers, but the current building lacks both the physical space and the necessary infrastructure to install more computer stations. The risk, of course, is that as information technology continues to progress in the years to come, the library in its current configuration will be less and less suited to adequately serve the needs of the community. One of the key components of the proposed new building is the provision for at least three times as many public computers supported by a modern data network. It is also one of the compelling arguments for voting “yes” to approve the library referendum issue in April.

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