Libraries are a vibrant, essential part of local communities and places of learning. That’s why, like many across the internet, we couldn’t disagree more with a now-retracted opinion piece that appeared recently on Forbes.com, calling for the removal of publicly funded libraries to be replaced by local Amazon bookstores.
Forbes reportedly removed the piece after deciding the author wasn’t sufficiently qualified to write about the topic. SHP, on the other hand, has been fortunate enough to work with educators, community leaders and librarians on the planning, design and construction of several libraries in our firm’s history. We know intimately the impact a library can have on a community. We’d like to use our experience with libraries to share four reasons why we think they’re as vital and relevant today as they have ever been.
Libraries are community innovation spaces
Most people who think of libraries as outdated relics full of dusty pages, outdated books and a hawkish librarian who prowls the stacks listening for noises above a whisper haven’t actually been in a library in quite some time. In fact, most libraries are a modern, beautiful nexus of knowledge and collaboration in a community.
Libraries today offer people of all ages the chance to benefit from training spaces, to try out their creativity in makerspaces, to connect with each other in flexible community rooms, meeting spaces and cafés. They also offer opportunities to rent a growing litany of technology and other equipment. Libraries are uniquely positioned as one of the few open public spaces in a community, and the only one where the acquisition and sharing of knowledge is the primary goal.
Libraries are digital hubs
Libraries have wisely used public funds to stay up to date with technology and readership trends. Although print books aren’t exactly going away—at least, not according to sales numbers—those who prefer digital and audio versions of books can still benefit from a membership to the local library. Libraries recognize that generational needs and differences often influence a preference for whether content is delivered in printed, digital or audio form and they provide all of these options.
With apps like Libby and Overdrive (notably powered by the same company) local libraries and state library systems are able to provide a virtually limitless collection of digital audio and ebooks for rent to library cardholders. Even new releases can be downloaded onto cell phones, tablets and computers—no paid membership required.
Additionally, libraries are media centers that provide computers and internet access to a diverse group of people—from those who may not have a computer at home, to people who just need to get away and focus. For inquiring minds who want to go deeper into the digital world, libraries offer classes on computer literacy and coding. Many libraries across the nation also offer free access to Lynda online courses, which provide interactive lectures on the same topics you’d find covered at any college or university.
Libraries are worth the investment
Taxes and levies are a sensitive subject, and helping a community understand the benefit of public funding for facilities is something we deal with a lot. Despite the arguments, it remains clear that public investments in libraries have a net economic benefit. Depending on the specific state, for every $1 of public revenue collected for libraries, between $4 and $8 in resources are returned to the community.
Because of the economy of scale—and the savings associated with sharing and reusing resources—libraries save community residents money. They help local job markets by training the talent pipeline and they provide access to meeting spaces, technology and other resources for civic groups, clubs and neighborhood organizations.
In Hamilton county, Ohio—where SHP is headquartered—the homeowner of a $150,000 home (just over the median value in the area) currently contributes less than $43 annually in taxes toward public libraries. That’s less than the cost of an Amazon Prime membership, and the contribution pays for itself after checking out two or three books. Add on all the other services libraries offer and this is a taxpayer bargain. And there’s something to be said for the fact that libraries provide these same resources to others in the community who wouldn’t otherwise have access to books, computers and skill development courses.
Libraries are beautiful
As an architecture and design firm, we’re obviously biased here, but the design of libraries are often focal points in cities and towns across America. They reflect the local aesthetic and give every citizen a town treasure of which they can be proud.
Some of the most famous libraries are architectural marvels that awe and inspire the masses. In America, we’re collectively drawn to beaux-arts style of our national Library of Congress—the oldest federal cultural institution in the country and largest library in the world.
For children, elaborately detailed spaces can stoke the imagination and create excitement for reading. For adults, there can be no better space to relax and read (or buckle down and focus) than in a cozy chair or desk in the corner among books representing centuries of human knowledge.
They’re beautiful, too, for what they represent. Local libraries are depositories of genealogy, history and folklore. They’re great because they’re ours—a treasure that can and must endure for centuries to come. The brightest in human history have always recognized that the future is not about ignoring the past, it’s about embracing our legacy and using what we have learned to inform the future. There is no one solution to places to gather, collaborate, learn and interact. Along with others, including Amazon, libraries will continue to be one important solution.