Friday, February 7, 2014

Who Says Libraries Are Going Extinct? - Pacific Standard: The Science of Society


February 06, 2014 •
6:00 AM
Bates Hall in Boston Public Library. (Photo: SeanPavonePhoto/Shutterstock)

With nearly 2.5
billion materials circulated through more than 16,000 public branches,
2013 was one of the strongest years for libraries in the past decade.
And things are looking up.

America’s network of public libraries
is older than America itself. You can make a strong case that the
precursor to our modern book-lending system was developed in Boston in
1636, in Charleston in 1698, by Benjamin Franklin and his Philadelphia
cohort in 1731, or in the Massachusetts town that named itself after
Franklin in 1790. But what is indisputable is that this “amazing
decentralized mutual aid” creation, as one librarian described
it, was founded on a radical belief that all citizens have a right to
information, art, and literature. That these things are not a luxury,
but a necessity, is an idea that turned the old elite concept of private
libraries and ivory towers on its head.

Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that the people locked out of the
traditional venues for knowledge are the ones who pioneered the public
library. By donating book collections, fundraising for better buildings,
and lobbying for political support, women’s clubs around the country
were key forces in cultivating public libraries: 75 percent of America’s
libraries were started by them on humanistic principles. When the
Detroit Public Library was founded in 1865, “our nation was moving from
the concept of libraries as storehouses of books—considered as precious
physical objects for the use of the few—to the conception of books and
libraries as people,” according to Parnassus on Main Street.

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