Oliver: Libraries come out of their shelves

I am a big fan of libraries. That should come as no surprise, because I’m an avid reader and a writer.

However, libraries these days are so much more than the printed page.

Not unlike newspapers, libraries have needed to adapt to a changing landscape in the way patrons want to receive information and services.

As e-books have increased in popularity, there was a fear that libraries would become as obsolete as stone tablets. Happily, that just hasn’t been the case.

A recent survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project took a look at library services in the digital age.

Not surprisingly, Americans want digital services to expand. Yet, most still believe print books remain important.

The vast majority of the 2,252 Americans surveyed – 91 percent – said public libraries are important to their communities.

What are people using the library for these days?

Fifty-three percent of those surveyed had been to a library in the past 12 months, and of them, a full 73 percent went to browse the shelves for books or media and to borrow print books. They also went to get help from a librarian (50 percent); to sit, read and study or watch or listen to media (49 percent); to use a research database (46 percent); or to attend or bring a younger person to a class, program or event designed for children or teens (41 percent).

Other uses included borrowing a DVD or videotape; reading or checking out printed magazines or newspapers; attending a group meeting; attending a class, program or lecture for adults; borrowing or downloading an audio book; or borrowing a music CD.

Our area libraries have all that and more. They also offer services through computers and mobile apps, in addition to e-books.

So what do people want from their libraries?

Among the most important services to survey respondents were help in finding information, borrowing books, free access to computers and the Internet, quiet study spaces for adults and children, programs and classes for children and teens, research resources, job/career resources, free events and activities, and free, public meeting spaces.

If you haven’t visited an area library lately, you’re missing out on all of those services.

One problem for some people might be the outdated perception of the library as just a quiet place. One librarian who took part in the Pew survey put it this way: “We need to change the concept of the library as a restricted, quiet space – we bustle, we rock, we engage, but so many people in the community do not know this.”

Our area libraries can help you learn how to download e-books, prepare for job interviews, keep the children occupied on a winter day, explore new hobbies, or relax and take in a recent movie.

And that’s just a small sampling of what they have going.

The wonderful libraries of McHenry County are worth checking out – even if you’re not there to find a book.

• Joan Oliver is the assistant news editor for the Northwest Herald. She can be reached at 815-526-4552 or by email at

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