Laura Marlane: Libraries still relevant

I work in a profession whose obsolescence has been predicted for the past 50 years or more. The end of print books has been similarly disparaged for about the same amount of time. I’m here to tell you that reports of libraries’ impending demise are greatly exaggerated (to paraphrase Mark Twain). In fact, libraries continuously reinvent themselves in a changing world, and as people’s needs shift, libraries find new ways to meet them.

So, what is Omaha Public Library (OPL) doing to address its community’s needs? OPL provides access to high-speed, broadband internet for people to apply for jobs, sign up for social services, file taxes, do online banking, and accomplish many other tasks that are increasingly moving to an online-only format in what is still a digitally divided world. OPL offers devices with built-in internet access that can be checked out and taken home for convenience. Magazine and journal articles featuring valid, peer-reviewed sources are easily searchable through OPL’s online databases. Digital books and magazines can be downloaded and read or listened to at any time.

With smartphone users topping 2.5 billion this year, most people can access information whenever they want or need it. However, that access comes with a price tag, and as someone who devoured every bit of science fiction I could get my hands on as a kid, I don’t remember Mr. Spock ever hitting a paywall to download a research article he desperately needed. OPL purchases databases to make information affordable and accessible to everyone. Find car repair help using Auto Repair Source; language learning lessons with Mango Languages; archives of the Omaha World-Herald and Omaha Star newspapers; and free music downloads from the Sony Music catalog with Freegal. All of this is available with your library card, which is free to Douglas County residents! If getting to the library is a challenge, sign up for a digital library card at omahalibrary.org to start downloading audio and eBooks, magazines, and music today, without needing to visit a physical branch location.

In addition to making technology, information, and development opportunities affordable and available for everyone, libraries are a one-stop-shop for literacy resources, especially for young people. Bring your child to storytime, check out a book, or download one from the TumbleBook Library—a curated database of children’s eBooks that includes animated, talking picture books for you and your child to read along with together.

Libraries have been around for centuries, and according to George Bobinski, author of “Libraries and Librarianship: Sixty Years of Challenge and Change, 1945-2005,” “...libraries have survived floods, fires, tyrants, pillaging, vandals, inquisitions, revolutions, wars, book burnings, censorship attacks, budget crises, and, as we have seen, predictions of their demise. Libraries have constantly adapted to challenge and change during these 5,000 years—sometimes slowly—but they have survived and grown.”

So, to those of you who still think that libraries are failing, inadequate or obsolete, maybe it’s time you visited OPL to see for yourself. There is so much to discover! With nearly two million visitors in 2018, and more than three million checkouts, we know there is still a demand for libraries in our community, and we look forward to serving you well into the future.

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