What is the Value of Community Libraries?


Micah Malone


Recently, I conducted a survey of both faculty and students alike at Toll Gate on libraries. Respondents were asked to answer a few questions about their past interactions with libraries and the usage they have gotten out of them. When looking at the data from the answers, it quickly became apparent that libraries have been a useful resource for nearly everyone at some point in their lives. 

When asked if they had a public library card, 72% of the 209 people that responded said yes and 51% stated that they had been to a public library in the past six months. Respondents were also asked to select services they had used at any point in their lives, not simply the past six months, from a list of services commonly provided by libraries. Unsurprisingly, the most picked option was the distribution of books, the primary function of a library, with 90% of people saying they had used that service at least once in their lives. In total, there were 12 services for people to select from and while none came close to being chosen as much as the first one, all were selected to varying degrees. 46% of people selected the distributions of audio/visual materials like DVDs and CDs, 44% selected providing access to a computer or assistance with other technological needs, and 41% selected providing assistance with research. Also included were some more obscure services such as offering English Language Learners classes and citizenship forms for immigrants. While a majority of people don’t need such services, 6 people said they had taken the ELL classes and 5 said they had used the library for assistance with gaining citizenship. The variety of services that were chosen by people demonstrates that people that go to libraries get a multitude of uses out of them. A majority of respondents selected multiple services, with only 19% of people choosing either only one response or none. 

Libraries clearly go beyond simply providing people with books to read and yet, 49% of people said that they had not been to the library in the past six months. The last question on the survey asked people that do not go to the library if they could briefly share why and when looking at the responses, it helps paint a picture of why a good number of people choose to not use the convenient services provided by libraries. The most common answer people gave was that they either had no reason or interest in going to the library. Others said that they didn’t read much and if they needed a computer, they had a laptop or chromebook. This all makes sense and demonstrates that as the internet has become mainstream and technology more accessible, the average person has less of a reason to use the library for research. Most of the information they might need can be found online. There were also a number of people that said they preferred to own the books they were reading, or that they read ebooks and listened to audio books. When it comes to borrowing DVDs or other such material, the abundance of streaming services makes it more likely that the movie or show someone wants to watch will be available to them already. All of this shows that when it comes to the most commonly used services at libraries, there are a number of people that feel they have other ways to access those services, or they simply don’t need them at all. That’s not to say that libraries are becoming obsolete in this era of online information and technological advancement, far from it in fact. Libraries have always been about more than books and this is even more true today than ever before.

Libraries have vastly broadened the scope of their functionality in order to accommodate the wants and needs of their patrons. One question on the survey asked respondents to list any additional services they would like to see provided by libraries aside from the ones already listed. Some of the most commonly requested things were for libraries to provide student resources, tutoring opportunities, and food. The first two are already commonly available at libraries, since librarians are excellent resources for assisting students and while most libraries do not have their own tutors on hand, libraries are great spaces for someone to meet with a tutor. Some libraries do also provide snacks or give away meals in conjunction with food banks. Most of the other things that people listed are also already provided by libraries. 

The role of a library is not merely to loan out books. There is so much more that can be found in libraries, and most libraries are unique in one way or another, so if something is not offered at one library, chances are that it might be at a different one. The results from the survey clearly show that libraries offer a lot to the people that go to them, and that a large percentage of our community here at Toll Gate has found and continues to find the library to be useful for a wide range of reasons.