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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Virtual Public Library

I was at the Goombay Bash last night, an annual cancer benefit for the H Foundation, and was chatting with one of the foundation's board members, who also happens to be an elected official from a neighboring municipality. This town does not have a public library. The residents of this community must go to other municipalities and purchase a library card. The prices of these cards are usually based on the average amount in tax dollars that the members of the town with a library pay each year. For example, my town charges around $300 for nonresident cards. This one card serves an entire household, no matter the size This non-library-having community does reimburse its citizens 50% of their out-of-pocket costs.

However, the community make-up is changing rapidly. What was once a business first city with very little residential citizens, is quickly becoming a city of young families who want library service.

At this event, I asked the official (a friend of mine) when this city would get a library. He said that it was not in any long term plans. Instead he offered up the idea of a virtual library service. He suggested hiring a few librarians to set up a
website where resources could be accessed and questions could be posed. These libraries would work from an office out of the City Hall, for example, and answer questions. They would be accessible in person to answer questions for those who did not have a computer.

I reminded him that a library is more than just a place where you get information. What about the parents who want to go to story times and the children who want to come look at books to check out? What about the adult leisure or those who want a place to congregate? I went on politely for a few more minutes about everything the library is and can be as a physical site that a computer alone cannot provide. I will not recount all of my arguments here, but check out this site for first hand accounts of why people love their library.

By the end his wife was agreeing with me. Hopefully she will put a bug in his ear too. I will be in contact with him a few more times in the next few months and will try to continue this conversation. But the important point here is that although you may be able to answer your current query with Google or Wikipedia, the library as a building and as a municipal institution is integral to American life.

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