Why do we need libraries?
On Monday, July 25, the Minot Public Library posed the following question on their social media: “Why do we need libraries?”
This question has been asked for hundreds of years but has become even more common since the rise of on-the-go technology. It’s not unusual for a person to wonder why access to libraries is necessary in 2022 when people can download books and research can be done by anyone anywhere. As more and more information become available online and is in the palm of your hand, the questions about the need for libraries seem to get louder and louder.
Yet, libraries aren’t scared of this change – they embrace the many technological advancements and work to help connect patrons with the skills to be successful.
For example, MPL Teen Librarian, Pam Carswell, said “Our Library is keeping pace with technology and the needs of the Minot community by offering Wi-Fi hotspots, laptops, robots, and tablets for patrons to check out along with in-house tools like the 3D printers.”
Carswell, who launched the MPL Makerspace and 3D Printer programs, shared that she’s even helped a patron 3D print parts to fix a tractor. She recently added Adventure Packs to the Makerspace collection to encourage patrons to try birdwatching, hiking, rock collecting, star gazing and whittling.
“Our library supports creativity and learning in many forms,” says Carswell.
“We can’t say it enough: libraries are not just about books,” said MPL Children’s Librarian Randi Monley. “Public libraries are welcoming, a place that helps foster connections, and a safe place to be when facing shelter insecurity and other challenges.”
Monley explained that another key feature of public libraries is that they are a place where people can gather, meet, and share ideas.
In addition to being a public place where all people are welcome, a library is “one of the few places kids and adults have left to go that isn’t monetarily transactional,” according to one of the responses to the Library’s Facebook post.
Another comment said that libraries are needed because they “provide a space for lifelong learners, college students needing a quiet place and resources to study, children who need to get out of the house, seniors needing internet access, and book lovers of all ages. They’re more than a house of books; they’re a haven.”
In his 2018 book Palaces for the People, sociology professor Eric Klineberg said, “the library is among the most critical forms of social infrastructure we have.” He also points out that the library’s founding principle is “all people deserve free, open access to our shared culture and heritage, which they can use to any end they see fit.”
Additionally, he wrote that the library’s “core mission is to help people elevate themselves and improve their situation.” This core mission is especially vital as results from the 2021 City of Minot Community Survey showed that 37% or less of respondents answered “excellent” or “good” regarding how Minot was serving the following populations: Racial and Ethnic minorities, LGBTQ+, non-English-speaking persons, and persons who are deaf or hearing impaired.
Klineberg explained that libraries provide a buffer for everyone and particularly for those struggling to overcome obstacles. This notion was supported by responses to the MPL social media post, which included comments such as “knowledge shouldn’t be restricted to people with privilege,” and libraries offer “a way for an introvert with social anxiety to travel and escape” along with “libraries offer a quiet self-time so you can immerse yourself into your interests without the loud cry of the outside world butting in.”
While some may still be asking why a community needs a library, the Minot community is busy taking advantage of the many services available at no cost. In June, the Minot Public Library signed 397 people up for new library cards (the most since 2012) and had over two thousand visitors to the building. Additionally, physical items were checked out more than 20,000 times in June which was the highest number of check-outs since January 2015.
“It’s obvious that the Minot Public Library is well-used and remains relevant to our community,” Carswell said. “However, we know we still have a long way to go to get more people to use our resources and know about all the services we offer.”
“I’m still astonished by the number of Minot citizens who do NOT have a library card or know that they can check out gardening tools, video games, Adventure Packs, or so many other things,” Monley added. She said the staff work hard to get this information to people and are always looking for new ways to meet people where they are.
“We know that a lot is being asked of people all the time, and sometimes just taking the time to come to the library can be another chore. So, we try to get out into the community and make getting a library card easier for people. Once you have your library card, you’ll realize what it can do to help ease some of life’s stress.”
As one respondent to the MPL social media post said, they need libraries: “Because I don’t have the budget to keep buying all the books I want to read!”
Finally, in a time when finding new employees and creating an inviting community is essential to ensuring a city thrives, libraries can be a crucial attraction for those searching for a better quality of life.
According to the 2021 City of Minot Community Survey, 78% of residents surveyed rated Minot as an “excellent” or “good” place to raise children, and 73% rated Minot as “excellent” or “good” as a place to live. In addition, 61% of the residents surveyed were “very satisfied” or “satisfied” with Minot’s overall quality of life.
A vibrant and innovative public library adds to this satisfaction and helps attract new residents to Minot.