Shelf Surfing at the Public Library

Pasadena Central public library

Pasadena Central Library

Have you been shelf surfing at your public library recently. I went to Pasadena Central Library this weekend. Visiting libraries was once one of my weekly rituals. I say with some regret that my visits to a public library have come less frequently. Why?  I’ve been smitten by ebooks.

My favorite public library hangout is Pasadena Central in Pasadena, CA. It has a circulation of 900,000+ items and receives 600,000+ visitors a year. Pasadena Central was built in 1927 using common materials of that era: cut stones and natural hard woods. The patina of its golden oak shelves, tables and fixtures make the library a warm, inviting environment to enjoy a good book.

As my visits are less frequent, I see dramatic changes in its services and appearance; changes that may actually be gradual to their daily patrons.

Many of those changes are in response to new technology tools and others to an ever-evolving culture. On the cultural front, I see libraries making accommodations for a certain age group. Many libraries have a children wing, then the adult section. But what to do with all those teenagers? That problem has been solved by the designation of ‘Teen Area’. Along with reading programs, multi-language services, movies, seniors services and more, the public library is reaching out to all generations.

The public library is also engaged in a battle to remain relevant on the technological front as well. Bar coded books and library cards have greatly streamlined the checkout process. Some libraries have even installed self-checkout kiosks. One can reserve and renew books on line. This is a good thing for patrons, but not so much so for libraries who rely in part on overdue to late fees for funding. More recently, thanks in great measure to OverDrive.com

Young ladies in Pasadena Central public library

Deep Unto Deep at Pasadena Central

But will the public library survive as one of mankind’s greatest institutions? Will the social features of whispered interaction be heard over the shouting done on social sites? Can the weighted bookshelf of the public library stand up to the loaded disk of an ebook?

In recent years, we’ve seen reduced staff, shorter hours, fewer days and more as patrons find alternate sources of books and research services and as public funds become more scarce. An important question we all should answer is, “Is the public library an essential service on the order of a police or fire department?”

My answer is “YES!”

What are your thoughts on public libraries?

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