Occasionally, someone unfamiliar with King County Library System will say to me “Why do we need libraries when we have the Internet?”
I actually love that question because there are so many compelling answers.
Libraries, as repositories of knowledge, have been around for about 5,000 years, dating back to ancient Middle Eastern civilizations that began to preserve important records and texts. The first public libraries appeared in Athens, Greece around 500 BC.
It is true that libraries have a long history, but that hardly makes them outdated. On the contrary, public libraries are more relevant than ever in an Information Age in which the Internet and social media has made the quest for knowledge increasingly confusing and complex, and where barriers to access still exist.
Public libraries are places that are free and welcoming to people of all ages, abilities, ethnicities, religions, cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds. Public libraries level the playing field, providing equal access to information and creating equal opportunities to learn and grow. And access is not limited to physical buildings. KCLS provides outreach services to senior centers, homeless shelters, detention facilities and other underserved populations that cannot get to a library.
Libraries play a critical role in building community by providing spaces for people to gather and interact. In 2018, KCLS welcomed 10 million visitors and nearly 700,000 program attendees. Children made new friends during story times, non-native speakers practiced English at Talk Time sessions, Teen Library Advisory Board members developed programs for fellow teens, adults discussed current events with authors and local experts and parents traded tips in caregiving classes. KCLS also provided assistance to patrons with real-life challenges, including individuals applying for jobs, navigating Social Security and Medicare, managing debt, seeking health care or searching for housing.
Through it all, libraries continue to offer books, music, movies, databases and other materials and resources to meet the demand of our patrons’ wide-ranging interests. KCLS circulated 21.7 million items in 2018, including 4.9 million downloadable eBooks and audiobooks through Rakuten OverDrive — more than any other library in the United States.
So if you are still thinking that libraries are no longer relevant, check out all there is to discover at your local library. As we say at KCLS, the choices will surprise you.
Lisa Rosenblum is the director for King County Library System.