Libraries Must Expand Their Mission and Outreach
BY RAANAN GEBERER
Books, DVDs, and CDs aren’t the only things being offered in my neighborhood library (the Muhlenberg, on 23rd St., btw. Seventh & Eighth Aves.). The branch hosts a writers’ group, a poets’ group, movies for seniors, an afternoon teen lounge, a theater group, and a book discussion group, as well as occasional performances.
The only problem is that, unless you’re a frequent visitor to the library, actively seek out the library system’s website or happen to look at a community calendar feature of a local newspaper such as this one, you’re not likely to know about any of these events.
Because of computerization and the information age, one hears about the downsizing of public libraries everywhere. It was only a public outcry that was able to defeat the New York Public Library’s plan to sell the flagship Mid-Manhattan Branch and move 1.5 million research books to storage in New Jersey. When library branches are demolished, as happened with the Donnell Library, their planned replacements are almost always smaller than the original library.
Not everyone wants to use a Kindle. But even for diehard readers of physical books like me, it’s comparatively easy to get an inexpensive used copy of a paperback on sites like half.com — and you don’t have to wait weeks like you do if you reserve a book through the library system. As for the research collection, much of the information that I used to get from volumes like the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature or Current Biography can now be found online.
True, libraries are thriving as a place for students to do their homework, often on laptops. But in order to attract a broader spectrum of people, libraries must put greater emphasis on their role as a community meeting place. And to do this, the library system must put greater effort into publicizing the types of events mentioned above.
Merely posting signs in the library itself won’t do. The library system put up signs at bus stops, establish cross-promotions on neighborhood merchants’ websites, put up notices at all neighborhood stores with bulletin boards, make sure literature is displayed out at elected officials’ offices and at youth and senior centers, publicize these events at local colleges, take out ads in community newspapers and more.
If the libraries do this, more and more people will visit these events, and the library branches will get a higher profile. And while they’re at it, many of these visitors will start taking out books, CDs, and DVDs again.