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In our pages: Libraries look ahead


What purposes can a library serve in an era when research can be done at home computers, thousands of public domain books can be downloaded for free, and people are starting to carry around e-book readers? That's the question that David Sarno seeks to answer in Friday's Times.

"It's very common for people to say, 'Why do I need a library when I've got a computer?' " said Pam Sandlian-Smith, director of the seven-branch Rangeview, Colo., Library District. "We have to reframe what the library means to the community."

In the struggle to stay relevant — and ultimately to stay open — libraries are reinventing themselves in ways unimaginable even a few years ago, preparing for a future in which most materials can be checked and read from a home computer, smartphone or electronic reading device.

But not all library professionals are enthusiastic about the community-building efforts Sandlian-Smith and others like her have taken:

"If you want to have game rooms and pingpong tables and God knows what — poker parties — fine, do it, but don't pretend it has anything to do with libraries," said Michael Gorman, a former president of the American Library Assn. "The argument that all these young people would turn up to play video games and think, 'Oh by the way, I must borrow that book by Dostoyevsky' — it seems ludicrous to me."

Sarno reports that lending books is taking a back seat as libraries diversify their holdings -- DVDs! e-books! -- and struggle to define how they can serve their local communities. And yet libraries can also serve a wider audience; some are bringing rare archival materials online.

That doesn't mean that there are e-books available yet for everything in their collections. Publishers hold back e-book versions of some big sellers from libraries -- Jonathan Franzen's "Freedom," the Harry Potter series.

One library advocate tells Sarno that the places where people once gathered to read may be retooled as a place where they also create. They're not the only ones thinking that: earlier this year, NaNoWriMo signed up libraries as writing locations for its project to write a novel in a month.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Pam Sandlian-Smith, director of the Rangeview, Colo., Library District. Credit: David Sarno / Los Angeles Times

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In the UK libraries are under attack because of savage public spending cuts. Of course, libraries have to adapt to the new technologies but if we allow their primary function to die then, as a generation, we will be guilty of criminal neglect
Elizabeth Buchan, author of Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman and Separate Beds

Libraries are seriously underrated and underappreciated, and it's a shame. Want proof? Look at the number of people who have commented on this article. Obtaining a library card is free and there's so much you can do with one. In addition to books of every imaginable kind, all my local libraries also have newspapers from all over the U.S., and I've seen foreign-language editions as well. And how about hundreds of periodicals...all free with the card.

Furthermore, the DVD collections at all my local branches have swelled to perhaps triple in the last couple of years, and there appears to be more every time I visit. I've personally checked out dozens of DVDs over the past two or three years, again for free with the card.

Then there's the computer dept: some libraries have not just a room but an entire wing where patrons can search the Internet, play games or whatever for hours, again, all free. I've never used my library's computers because I have one of my own, but I know several people, kids and adults, who do.

A library can still be not only relevant, but a place to relax and read or work in quiet, but first you have to actually visit one and find out for yourself.

BTW, I'm not a librarian and I don't know any personally.

I love the Central Library here in San Antonio, Texas -- affectionately nicknamed "Big Red" by the locals -- not only for lending me books that I want to read but not buy, but for providing me a chance to roam the shelves, discovering ideas and authors and things that neither brick and mortar stores nor the web can provide.

Right outside the front doors of Big Red is a coffee house, where lots of folk sit and read what they've just checked out.

Problem: you can't bring your beverages into the library itself.

With the decline of brick and mortar stores, my hope is that libraries, filled with cubbies and cushy chairs, will find a way to fill that gap -- letting us bring our coffee or frap into the library proper.

Maybe just the first floor?

That, to me, is the future of our public library -- the replacement venue for the brick and mortar stores after the web gets done with them.

I hope to see a trend toward cherishing the local library as a meeting place for the community, something that it's always been historically after all. Silly as it sounds, I think that selling overpriced flavored coffee to patrons might make a real difference.

PUBLIC libraries are paid with Tax-money.....

Public libraries should post their content away for Free Free Free.

Public tax-money paid for All this....

Million of people can see the Contect for Free Free Free.

Public should get their money either in Paper form or Online Free Free Free.

Free Free Free libraries for All the people who paid for this....


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