Libraries are defined by Merriam-Webster as “a place in which literary, musical, artistic, or reference materials (as books, manuscripts, recordings, or films) are kept for use but not for sale” or “a collection of such materials”.
I don’t know if the people that write dictionaries have been to a library in the last several years, but they really need to update their definition. Public libraries today are definitely not what they used to be.
Almost every library today provides computers with high speed internet access for free. If you have your own computer, tablet, or smartphone you can use free internet access via wi-fi at most libraries. You can find people of all ages using library computers to check email, use social networks, do online research, play video games, look for jobs, or just browse the internet. Computers and internet access are a core offering for most libraries out there today.
Libraries are much more than just an internet cafe. Most are actually trying to teach people how to use an internet cafe. Computer skills classes are available at many libraries. The Hawaii Public Library System is offering Microsoft IT training programs to its patrons. The program provides everything from basic computer proficiency training to comprehensive preparation for a Microsoft certification. This offering is unique to Hawaii’s libraries but it gives an example of some of the computer training offered at most libraries all over the country.
Public libraries offer access to career training and job search assistance programs. Library staff at many libraries help people write resumes and provide job search strategies. They also provide direction to local training and social programs designed to help the unemployed.
Of course libraries have always been huge on literacy. Almost every library offers programs to teach people of all ages to read. Many also provide math tutoring and english classes for ESL students.
Public libraries offer many programs for children. These range from support groups for new moms to a safe place for kids to stay after school. Libraries offer a huge variety of entertaining and educational activities for kids of all ages.
Some libraries are branching out and offering fitness and yoga classes. A few libraries offer craft spaces where anyone that wants to teach others a craft are free to operate. You can even find a coffee shop in a few libraries out there.
Those looking for the familiar will be happy to know that you can still find highly trained librarians at libraries. However, you will find that they no longer spend most of their time helping patrons find a particular book. Librarians are continually learning new expertise so that they can proficiently answer an ever growing array of possible questions you might have.
One of the most interesting problems with the dictionary definition of a library is that you are going to start seeing less and less books at a library. Ebook sales passed print book sales on Amazon last year and the shift to digital is having a huge impact on libraries. Larger portions of library budgets are being allocated to ebooks and less is being spent on print books. There is a small possibility that libraries might not have books at all someday.
So it’s definitely time to throw out the old definition of a library. Let’s just hope that we don’t throw out the actual libraries along with the defintion.