Save our libraries
Editor's WriteWednesday, May 12, 2021
We are many years away from days when parents and teachers encouraged us to use the public library to broaden our knowledge.
A visit to the library was a unique opportunity to get our hands on books that were either not at school or in our parents' library. There was no library at home for too many, so our parents sacrificed to buy the set of encyclopaedia sold by travelling salesmen on a weekly plan. Among them was Colliers, with its more than two dozen books covering everything in the known world.
We fast-forward to the Internet age and our access to instant updating of everything globally, a vast library unequalled to anything we ever dreamed of learning. Technology helps libraries do what they do best: Connect people with resources and ideas — including books, virtual reference, e-books, and training. If we are to draw on the strategies of the major bookstores, libraries now provide an oasis much like Starbucks attracts young people to work, study and socialise.
The past year has raised questions about the future of our libraries and their current and future functioning. It is of such concern for their operators that they have moved to retain and attract an audience they fear may no longer find them helpful.
The ensuing debate revolves around how we can best use technology to meet our thirst for knowledge while maintaining physical facilities. It is a debate that not only applies to libraries but all such places of social interaction.
Public spaces such as libraries are also great levellers and essential resources for those who may not afford paid facilities. Just look at the value of our community centres and the sports facilities, which serve as meeting and nurturing grounds for good and upright citizens. Many are the stories told of young people who have gone on to be excellent products of these communities mentored by local leaders.
While governments face mounting financial challenges, it may be time for the private sector, foundations and monied individuals to take a look at investing in our libraries to aid in their technology transformation.
And while we are thinking about technological changes, spare a thought for the most valuable resource: The librarian. These pioneers in education remain on the front line working assiduously to maintain service, threatened by the easy availability of knowledge on the Internet. However, they persevere because they hold to the tenet that bringing people together to learn is one of the most valuable things in life. The result is an eternal love for knowledge and great respect for the world in which we live.
We urge a reassessment of our library services and stepped-up support for their function. Theirs is a value beyond regular accounting. It is not an asset to be wasted.
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