Libraries are at the forefront of the America’s post-recession trend of austerity and public service cuts. But a recent Pew poll reported in Smithsonian Magazine found an overwhelming consensus that libraries are not only valuable, but should supported and expanded:
Over 80 percent believe that libraries should offer programs to teach digital skills, and more than half think they should provide guidance on using creative technologies like 3-D printers. There is some disagreement on how to provide this space though, as many people remain ambivalent about repurposing book and shelf space for tech resources.
Another reason libraries remain relevant in 2016? As Pew’s polling shows, Americans continue to believe libraries provide safe spaces and educational opportunities for communities. Libraries are also viewed as critical venues during a time of crisis. In the face of natural disasters or community issues, like Hurricane Sandy in 2013, libraries often serve as refuges or outposts.
In light of these numbers, perhaps it’s not too surprising that around two-thirds of respondents (66 percent) indicated that closing a local library would have a major impact on their community. The data is consistent with last year’s findings, which also found that around two-thirds (65 percent) of respondents believed that the shuttering of their local library would having a major effect on their community.
Nevertheless, local governments across the nation continue to put libraries on the chopping block, often ahead of any other programs. Of course, I cannot speak to the situation and circumstances of all cities, but my own hometown and current residence of Miami went through a heated public debate over the proposed closure of nearly half its libraries. It ultimately ended with the county government dipping into its reserves to keep all the libraries running for the time being (albeit many with greatly reduced hours and staff).
The amount involvement on the part of an otherwise politically-apathetic public spoke volumes about how intrinsically valuable libraries are to most people — and coincides rather well with Pew’s national poll.