Social Role of the Library

Libraries support the literacy of the homeless

The free-flowing nature of the library also allowed for parents to actively participate in their children’s reading. Noting the lack of literacy programs available for children at the shelter and in the community, one mother talked about the public library as being the place she could take her children to support their literacy development... Library attendance served as a springboard for parents to communicate messages about the expectations that they had for their children as readers. As institutions, libraries supported literacy events that tie to the larger cultural practices of coming together as part of a community. (p. 232).

Libraries have value to neighborhoods

People prefer to live near a public library if they have a choice, and often perceive library access as part of an enhanced quality of life, although it is rarely a direct factor in home purchase decision making.

The library facility as a gathering place has value

This includes the phenomenon known as the "living room" experience, meeting and conference rooms available, all-inclusive, safe and friendly environment, and a unique forum for social networking, book clubs and reading groups.

Public Library Stakeholders

stakeholders, inside and outside the library represent library users with children or grandchildren; employees from the community at large, who check out materials for use at their workplace, as well as job seekers; library users who contact public library reference libraries for information; and technology users with a need for Internet access.

Public libraries provide valuable meeting spaces

The role of the library as a community gathering place was stressed repeatedly at focus group sessions. Whether discussing concerts, classes, and other events, book clubs and other social groups, or simply a forum where people could come and sit, talk, and read, quite a few people expressed their appreciation that libraries stand alone in many communities as a gathering place. Although many towns also have community centers and parks, Wisconsin winters render such options unavailable a significant amount of the time. Many interviewees place a great deal of importance on the value of a comfortable public library facility where they can gather, especially as opportunities for social interaction have decreased in the wake of more people seeking out services online (p. 54).

library services allows for personal and professional development

The fact that so many materials are not only available, but available to be borrowed without paying a fee is of paramount importance. Many focus group participants noted that libraries "level the playing field." While many people of higher socioeconomic status routinely purchase books, subscribe to periodicals, and conduct their research online without ever visiting a library, many lower income individuals and families do not have that option. 21% of Wisconsin workers earn poverty level wages. Universal access is one of the most important strengths of the library. The availability of resources, technology, and educational opportunities provide everyone with the availability to improve themselves and their life circumstances. Even those patrons in higher income brackets need to prioritize their spending, and the fact is that even those who could afford to purchase more books and materials appreciate having a large collection available for checkout (p. 53).

Patrons find that public libraries improve quality of life and are a good use of tax revenue

Respondents were surveyed about their attitude toward public libraries and the extent to which they value the presence of public libraries in their communities. Almost all respondents felt that public libraries contribute in a meaningful way to the quality of life in their community, and that funding public libraries was a good use of tax revenue. These results are not surprising, inasmuch as the overwhelming number of survey respondents were regular library users. However, a recent statewide survey of Wisconsin residents, which was prepared for the Wisconsin Public Library Consortium (WPLC) included a random representative sample of both library users and non-users indicates that even among the population as a whole, the vast majority of Wisconsin residents value their public libraries ... Although the number of respondents who "strongly" agreed was higher among the NorthStar survey, which included fewer non-library users than the WPLC survey, more than 85% of respondents to both surveys agreed that libraries enhance quality of life, and support funding libraries with their tax dollars (p. 46).

Public libraries support personal productivity and cultural engagement

Directly related to the issue of citizens and their personal productivity is the survey finding that for almost half of patrons, the prime reason for visiting the central library was to look for information on a subject. Interviews with patrons revealed an extremely wide array of reasons as to why information was being sought. While some reasons had to do with paid employment (looking up information directly related to their work), in many cases the information sought related to other areas of life involving serious projects and pursuits that could not be characterized as merely recreational, including projects having to do with theater set design, a photographic exhibition, research for a film, small business development, and writing a screenplay, to name a few. These examples emphasize that the construction of public culture is a complex, ongoing process in which individuals are engaged in often surprising ways. Thus, the research suggests that the search for relevant information and its subsequent use in productive activity may be an integral characteristic of the construction of contemporary public culture in the emergent twenty-first century. If this is true, the central library is then a key site of both cultural consumption and production and a facilitator of civil society in a way that other public places are not (p. 354).

The library as a safe, important, and central public space

It seems clear that the central library is, indeed, central to the life activities of large numbers of people, is an important space in which public culture is constructed and lived, and thus has a deep sense of place attachment for its users. The central library attracts all ages and linguistic groups, has a well-educated clientele, and is regarded as a safe and appropriate destination for women, children, and men (p. 353).

Use of Public Libraries for Community Involvement

Twenty-five percent who went to the library learned about political or cultural organizations or leisure activities taking place in the local community. More than 20% went to the library with friends or colleagues to work together on a common assignment or a leisure activity. Seventeen percent used the Internet at the library to contact friends via e-mail, to chat, or to participate in discussion groups, etc. Sixteen percent used the library to learn more about local matters, social or political issues, etc., that they are involved in. Fourteen percent participated in organized meetings, such as author's nights, lectures, meetings with politicians, etc. Ten percent used the library as a place to meet family or friends before going together to the movies, into the city, to do shopping, etc. (p.19)


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