Why Libraries Still Matter

From the New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/08/opinion/sunday/civil-society-library.html   Also in print, Sept. 9, 2018, on Page SR6 of the New York edition with the headline: Why Libraries Still Matter.

“To Restore Civil Society, Start with the Libray” https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/08/opinion/sunday/civil-society-library.html

This crucial institution is being neglected just when we need it the most.

By Eric Klinenberg

Mr. Klinenberg is a sociologist.

  • Sept. 8, 2018
I’m sending excerpts only but hope you read the full item here: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/08/opinion/sunday/civil-society-library.html
“Is the public library obsolete?

A lot of powerful forces in society seem to think so. In recent years, declines in the circulation of bound books in some parts of the country have led prominent critics to argue that libraries are no longer serving their historical function. Countless elected officials insist that in the 21st century — when so many books are digitized, so much public culture exists online and so often people interact virtually — libraries no longer need the support they once commanded.

Libraries are already starved for resources. In some cities, even affluent ones like Atlanta, entire branche s are being shut down. In San Jose, Calif., just down the road from Facebook, Google and Apple, the public library budget is so tight that users with overdue fees above $20 aren’t allowed to borrow books or use computers.”

[During] “… a year doing ethnographic research in libraries in New York City. Again and again, I was reminded how essential libraries are, not only for a neighborhood’s vitality but also for helping to address all manner of personal problems.”

Also from the column ” In many neighborhoods, particularly those where young people aren’t hyper-scheduled in formal after-school programs, libraries are highly popular among adolescents and teenagers who want to spend time with other people their age. One reason is that they’re open, accessible and free. Another is that the library staff members welcome them; in many branches, they even assign areas for teenagers to be with one another.”

This excerpt is thoughtful:    “This is not to say that libraries are always peaceful and serene. During the time I spent doing research, I witnessed a handful of heated disputes, physical altercations and other uncomfortable situations, sometimes involving people who appeared to be mentally ill or under the influence of drugs. But such problems are inevitable in a public institution that’s dedicated to open access, especially when drug clinics, homeless shelters and food banks routinely turn away — and often refer to the library! — those who most need help. What’s remarkable is how rarely these disruptions happen, how civilly they are managed and how quickly a library regains its rhythm afterward.

The openness and diversity that flourish in neighborhood libraries were once a hallmark of urban culture. But that has changed. Though American cities are growing more ethnically, racially and culturally diverse, they too often remain divided and unequal, with some neighborhoods cutting themselves off from difference — sometimes intentionally, sometimes just by dint of rising costs — particularly when it comes to race and social class.”

Excerpt only, read the full column here:https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/08/opinion/sunday/civil-society-library.html

Or read about his book Palaces for the People: http://www.ericklinenberg.com/books#palaces-for-the-people-how-social-infrastructure-can-help-fight-inequality-polarization-and-the-decline-of-civic-life