During the early twentieth century there was debate in this country about what was then known as The Fiction Problem. Popular fiction was frowned upon in the library world in favor of “more improving books.” This was the perspective of one librarian who wrote in 1906: “It is certainly not the function of the public library to foster the mind-weakening habit of novel-reading among the very classes—the uneducated, busy or idle—whom it is the duty of the public library to lift to a higher plane of thinking.”
Times change. By the 1970s, popular fiction was a mainstay in public libraries. Libraries in the latter part of the twentieth century commonly centered on a philosophy known by librarians at the time as Give ‘Em What They Want. This movement was characterized by libraries focusing attention on providing materials people desired rather than materials librarians thought people needed. One result of this change is popular fiction collections in public libraries grew to previously unseen volumes in both size and use.
Now in the early 21st century libraries are evolving once again as information becomes increasingly digital and online. Today’s traditionalists now, as in 1906, are concerned about the change. Some are troubled about the loss of “real books” or even view this transition as an “insult” to “book readers.” The rhetoric has occasionally reached a higher pitch with absurd accusations of librarians “burning books.”
What is striking to me about these complaints is this. Public libraries in our community today have never been busier or more engaged. More people are using our libraries than ever before. We will check out more than two million items this year alone. We have never circulated this many books and other materials in any single year ever in the history of the library district. Record numbers of individuals are attending library educational and cultural programs and events. And, of course, more people are using library digital services, too—including computers, the Internet, e-books, and more.
In many respects this seems to be a golden age for public libraries. Nevertheless, it is important to balance the new with the old. After all, the library has an obligation to ensure free and open access to information for everyone. This principle is fundamental to the role of the public library in America. It was so in the time of Jefferson and Franklin in the eighteenth century. It continued to be true through the nineteenth century when Carnegie gave generously to help establish the system of public libraries we still revere today. It remains accurate now as philanthropists like Bill Gates assist libraries in meeting the need for access in the digital age.
I assure you that library professionals at the Pueblo City-County Library District are dedicated to this task. Most librarians first entered this profession due to their passion for the bound monograph, or what some now refer to as the paper book. When you ask most people to describe a library today, they probably first mention the book. Yet libraries have not always been about books. They are not currently all about books. They are not likely to be all about books in the future.
Libraries predated books. The first libraries, 4,000 years ago, consisted of rooms full of clay tablets in cuneiform script and papyrus scrolls with hieroglyphics. Change has been occurring in libraries for literally thousands of years. In fact, it is reasonable to argue that so long as libraries are willing to adapt, their future is better guaranteed. It is only when libraries refuse or are unable to change that their future will become less certain.
Of course, the paper book does play a key role in today’s libraries. But modern libraries are more than this. Books are important to libraries, and will continue to be important for years to come. Yet libraries make information available in a variety of formats in addition to books. Libraries also are community and cultural centers with busy study areas, reading and viewing spaces, rooms for larger public gatherings, and the offer of spirited cultural and educational programs and events that are free and open to everyone.
This aspect of the modern public library is important for communities, both today and in the future. Libraries should be beautiful and peaceful, yet vibrant public spaces where people freely gather together to read, listen, view, learn, create, and exchange ideas. This is a big reason people are flocking to our libraries today. They seek that common public space devoted to lifelong learning. Yes, the library is more than simply a warehouse of books.
Not only do libraries furnish the venerable book, but also information in a variety of formats—CDs, DVDs, public-access computers, online reference databases, streaming video, e-books, e-audiobooks, and more. Today, we check out video games, language learning on USB drives, and audiobooks preloaded on MP3 players. We circulate laptops, tablets, and WiFi hotspots. We provide access to software and hardware that individuals might not afford in the home, such as 3D scanning and printing, audio and video recording production, and graphic design, video editing, photography and web development capacity. But it is not all about high-tech. We also provide seed libraries (yes, seeds you plant and grow), bicycle locks, etc. These new and alternative formats are definitely impacting how the library looks and how it is used. This trend will persist into the future for the successful public library.
We will continue to work diligently to give our users what they desire in paper, in online and digital formats, and, undoubtedly, in formats yet to come. The mission of the public library is to engage all members of our community with free and open access to information, lifelong learning, and literacy—excluding no one. As Thomas Jefferson wrote: “A democratic society depends upon an informed and educated citizenry.” The free public library is integral to this proposition. This is the promise that I am proudly committed faithfully to keep.
Please join the upcoming festivities at each of our three new libraries when they open to the public. The Greenhorn Valley Library, located at 4801 Cibola Drive in Colorado City, will celebrate its public grand opening all day on Saturday, November 22. This will be followed with the commemoration of completion of the new Giodone Library, located at 24655 US Hwy 50E, all day on Saturday, November 18. The third event will take place all day on Saturday, December 13, with a party to mark the establishment of the new Lucero Library at 1315 E. 7th Street in Pueblo.
This is a unique time in our community with three brand new public libraries opening for business within a one month period. It is fair to say that this may never happen again. Be a part of history! Support reading, literacy, and the value of free and open access to information for all! Join the fun! Let’s party at the library!
It is important to recognize and thank everyone who have donated $1,000 or more to help make these new libraries possible:
GREENHORN VALLEY LIBRARY: R.J. Black Schultz, Boettcher Foundation, Arnie & Jane Carlsen, Chamberlain Foundation, E.M. Christmas Foundation, Mark, Reiko & Midori Clark, Midori Clark, Colorado City Metropolitan District, Thomas & Nancy Corlett, Peggy Fogel, Friends of the Library, Catherine, Lauren & Morgan Gallegos, Gates Family Foundation, H.W. Houston Construction Co., Barb & Jane Hadley, Bob & Doris Johnston Foundation, In memory of Jerry King, Olimpia & Augustus Koehler Cox, Keith & Lorraine Kohrs, Frank I. Lamb Foundation, David & Renee Montano, Larry & Sue Phillips, Pueblo County, Linda Reifschneider & Wallace Rice, Marvin & Linda Schutz, Paul & Nancy Shaw, Southern Colorado Community Foundation, Lynn & Norma Street, Temple Hoyne Buell Foundation, In memor of Angelo Vitale, Jr., P. Michael & Marianne Voute, the Wachob Family, Stacy & Jon Walker.
PATRICK A. LUCERO LIBRARY: Tom Autobee, Jeanette Autobee & Sharon Autobee Urrutia, Blackhills Energy, Boettcher Foundation, Chamberlain Foundation, Jeff & Paula Chostner, E.M. Christmas Foundation, Mark, Reiko & Midori Clark, Midori Clark, the Kent Couch Family, Neta & Eddie DeRose, Isaac C. & Maureen Duran, El Pomar Foundation, El Pomar Foundation Southeast Regional Council, Peggy Fogel, Friends of the Library, Neva, Alma & Raquel Fuentes, Gates Family Foundation, Sam & Connie Guerrero, H.W. Houston Construction Co., Health Access Pueblo, Inc., Alice Hill, Dr. Donna and Dustin Hodge, Bob & Doris Johnston Foundation, the Junior League of Pueblo, Frank I. Lamb Foundation, Land Title Guarantee Company, Mr. & Mrs. Gerald Lane & Family, Jim Lewis & Bill Bailey, Diann Logie, William & Janie Lucero, In memory of Dan Miltner, Anthony & Clara Nuñez, Park View Elementary School, Charles & Caroline Parsley, PeaceTrees Vietnam, City of Pueblo, Pueblo Community Health Center, Julie C. Rodriguez, Southern Colorado Community Foundation, Frank & Cheryl Spinuzzi, Dr. Alan & Sue Takaki, Temple Hoyne Buell Foundation, Mahlon Thatcher White Foundation, P. Michael & Marianne Voute, Louise Wagner Endowment Fund, Stacy & Jon Walker, Waterfront on the Riverwalk, Wells Fargo Foundation, Mr. & Mrs. Mark & Jennifer Welte, the Whitney Family.TOM L. AND ANNA MARIE GIODONNE LIBRARY: the Barnett Family, Boettcher Foundation, Pat & Donni Bottini, Marlene & William Bregar, Marianne & David Cardinal, JoAnn Carlo-Cummings, Jean Carlo-Erickson & Jan Carlo-Pullin, Frank & Mayme Carlo, Chamberlain Foundation, Mark & Jennelle Chorak, E.M. Christmas Foundation, Mark, Reido & Midori Clark, Fred & Evelyn Fitzsimmons, Peggy Fogel, Friends of the Library, Gates Family Foundation, Tom L. & Anna Marie Giodone, H.W. Houston Construction Co., Greg & Kathy Hahn, Bert & Joan Hartman, Bod & Doris Johnston Foundation, Frank I. Lamb Foundation, Anthony & Clara Nuñez, Drs. Gary & Pamela Parks, Pueblo Board of Water Works, Amber Sawvell Pepin & Alexandra, David & Betty Shepard, Southern Colorado Community Foundation, St. Charles Mesa Water District, Jim & Paulette Stuart, Temple Hoyne Buell Foundation, P. Michael & Marianne Voute, Stacy & Jon Walker.
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