The launch of Kindle Unlimited last week spawned a round of articles calling for killing libraries and replacing them with KU subscriptions, and today the ALA fired back.
The American Library Association has released the results of their latest survey today, and according to the report libraries fill more needs in the community than simply as a warehouse for books.
Nearly all public libraries in the US (98%) offer free public Wifi and internet access, and a similar number offer free tech training and help you fill out government forms. Nearly as many libraries (97%) offer online homework help and offer workforce development training programs (95%). And US public libraries will even supply a computer for you to use; the average library now has 20 computers for public use, up from 12 computers in 2012.
What’s more, 90% of the 3,392 libraries which responded to the survey offer ebooks to the public, up from 76% reported in 2012.
Today’s report is based on a survey conducted last fall, so it was very out of date by the time it was released in July 2014. But even though it is out of date, it still shows the falsity of arguments in favor of replacing libraries with lower-cost tech alternatives.
The fact of the matter is, that is simply not possible – but we already knew that.
If you don’t use a library regularly they might seem to be nothing more than a warehouse for books, but many people in each community rely on them to fill important needs. It’s not just the student who needs the computer for a research assignment or the community group which meets in the activity room; a library fills many roles.
According to the latest data from the Pew Research Center, a survey of library users showed that 80% of respondents appreciated the access to books and other media, while nearly as many (76%) valued the support and assistance they received from the library staff. Three quarters liked having a safe and quiet place, 72% appreciated the reference section, and 58% found the internet access useful.
Frankly, shuttering libraries and replacing them with KU subscriptions would likely be a double cost-saving measure; a minority of former library patrons would have trouble understanding how to use the service, and you could cancel their subscription because they don’t need it.
You could do that, yes, but we would all be the worse for it.