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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

Carnegie Corporation of America - Libraries in the Digital Age

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Carnegie Corporation of New York is a Foundation established in 1911 by Andrew Carnegie to promote the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding among the people of the United States.


In this issue of their “Carnegie Reporter,” the lead article is about Public Libraries in the digital age and what has happened since Andrew Carnegie funded the construction of more than 2,500 libraries worldwide, after the turn of the last century.


The editor, in reviewing the mission of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, states that “there is perhaps no institution so representative of that ideal than a public library.”


She says that the story in the “Carnegie Reporter” focuses on how America’s public libraries are not only the treasure houses of knowledge that are foundational to the strength of our democracy but are also evolving to meet the 21st century challenges of new technologies.


I have always said that Public Libraries continue to do the same thing they did when founded a century ago, we simply have new and different tools to use in delivering that information and knowledge.


Daniel Akst is the author of “Today’s Public Libraries: Public Places of Excellence, Education and Innovation,” the article in the Reporter.


He states, “Despite the Internet, libraries persist and even thrive.”  He then explores why, in a time that information is literally at our fingertips would people come to a public library?


Akst says that the first reason is “place.”  People need somewhere to go, families need a place to find peace, and people who live alone need to be around other people.


A public library is a place that you can go and not feel obligated to buy anything, just roam around and absorb information whether on a computer or the print media.


His second reason is “improvement.”  Americans are proponents of universal education and individual initiative and we have long felt the need to improve our lives with study and information by cultivating our minds.


Americans back to Ben Franklin and Horatio Alger have professed the benefits of the common man improving himself.


And from that foundation, America’s public libraries are visited 1.59 billion times in a year, from children making their first library contact to seniors who have used a public library for 80 years.


Andrew Carnegie wrote in his autobiography, published shortly after his death in 1919, that “I decided there was no use to which money could be applied so productive of good to boys and girls who have good within them and ability and ambition to develop it, as the founding of a public library in a community which is willing to support the library as an institution.”


He used that statement each time he funded the construction of another public library, in that he required the community to agree to fund the operations of the library.


About 300 planned libraries were dropped from the Carnegie funding because of a failure of the community to agree to the operational provision, or because the town refused his money for other reasons.


In 1938, a study was done by the Foundation titled, “The Public Library – a People’s University.”  The phrase caught on, and people proudly point to their public library as a place that all can learn and grow from the experience.


That experience is growing as digital content is growing in availability, and people are using their public library for eBook content in the new world of handheld media.

Susan Hildreth, Director of the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services, offers that libraries will provide people with “engaging learning experiences, will become community anchors, and provide access to content even as the devices for accessing that content change rapidly.”