Years ago, when I was looking for something to read, I'd go to the library and browse the shelves. I don't do that much any more. Today, I go to Amazon, figure out what books I'd like to read (I have about 20 authors whom I follow), and go online to see if the library has the book. If so, I electronically reserve it. I get an email telling me when it's available, and I go pick it up. I return the book via the drive-by drop off box.
This means that I am as intimately involved in my public library as I am in the drive-thru fast food restaurants I patronize much too often.
What does this mean for the future of libraries? I KNOW I'm not the only person who does this. In fact, when I electronically reserve a book, I'm usually in line behind 10 or more people who seem to using the library in the same way I am.
And, if that's not impersonal enough, Amazon now has a Prime membership (which I got for Christmas) that lets me borrow one book a month (for my Kindle, which I've posted that I love). For less that $80, I get access to 12 bestsellers a year immediately when I'm ready to read them. No waiting.
Just about all the "serious" readers I know, those who read 20 or more books/year, have Kindles or Nooks or those apps on their Smartphones. For us, the public library is a free alternative to getting books that we'd have to otherwise pay for. As the prices of ebooks decline and savy marketers find ways to get ebooks on our devices quicker and cheaper than driving to the library, there is less of an incentive for us to borrow from bricks and mortar.
But what about research? Does anybody ever really use the library instead of the Internet any more for research--at least those not in college? My kids write term papers all the time. They never go to the library. The journals they need are online and free. Other than academics, it's hard for me to imagine that any "knowledge" I need for my day-to-day life cannot be found online, for free, while I surf and eat my lunch.
What does this mean for libraries? I've thought about this a lot. When I do my quick visits, the patrons are: (1) People of limited means who are "hanging out;" (2) People using the free computers; (3) People reading the magazines; (4) Mothers with little kids borrowing tons of kids' books.
It used to be EVERYBODY loved libraries, or at least the idea of libraries.Will our communities fund libraries, as they have in the past, to keep the above patrons happy? I don't think so. This makes me a bit sad.
SO, I believe the future of the public library is bleak, unless there is a lot of energy injected into them and the libraries themselves are willing to "think outside the book" in serving patrons. I too love the idea of a public library, but in fact, the library hasn't engaged me for quite a while.
That's just the way it is, not the way I'd like it to be.