The Chronicle: The Modern Library

I’ll admit it – I haven’t spent much time in libraries in recent years.

As a result, my memories of libraries – of earnest study, stern silence and fear for leaving my essay research too late – are a little outdated.

The truth is, the library in which I spent my student days (first for work experience, then in high school and university) bears little more than a passing resemblance to its modern incarnation. The libraries of my past don’t really exist anymore.

Maybe that makes sense. Considering how the simplest smartphone can, in a moment, bring up any factoid in the universe, what’s the point of a library these days?

As it turns out, the answer depends on who you ask.

People have been writing off the library for years.

But no matter which threat they face – whether it’s the falling retail price of books, the growing ubiquity of the unshareable e-book or the ever-expanding Google-able universe – libraries evolve and continue to play a central role in our community.

I visited the Erindale Community Library a few weeks ago, to meet with a group that has been getting together for the last ten years to knit everything from socks for orphans to beanies for oncology patients.

I’d arrived too late to meet the morning’s Giggle and Wiggle group, which encourages language learning with rhymes, songs, games and stories specifically chosen for children aged 0-2 years.

Sure, the modern library is still a building filled with books available to borrow – Erindale, for example, allows the loan of up to 50 books for four weeks. But it’s also filled with CDs, DVDs, reference guides, computers, newspapers, and community spaces free for locals to meet – and laughter and conversation.

We shouldn’t be surprised that libraries have changed to reflect a changing community, because they’ve always been a part of the community.

So I say to the public library, sorry I haven’t seen much of you of late. But, you’ll be pleased to hear, you look as healthy as ever.

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