Libraries As A Resource In The Digital Age

photos by Melinda Shelton

When you think of all the cool spots in the city, your local coffee shop, dive bar or favorite restaurant may pop into your head as places to “multi-task”– eat, drink and socialize. Or,  you may think of your neighborhood park as a hub for leisurely activities. When you think of places to learn or gather information what’s the first thing to come to mind? Probably one of the local colleges or maybe the plethora of museums; But among them each has their own barrier to entry. Colleges require tuition or at the very least a student ID, and museums, an entrance fee. But there is still one place in the city where there is no barrier. . . where you will find the wealthy, the poor, students and professionals coming together in an open and equal pursuit of knowledge.

For many millennial, a trip to the library has been replaced by the search engine. The speed and breadth of searching capabilities that the Internet provides is a convenient way to capture specific data, and in this day and age when so many people are hooked up to wi-fi or have laptops and smartphones you might assume that the usefulness of libraries is fading. That assumption, however, would be false.

Libraries are still a relevant tool for gathering information and resources. The Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL) serves over 4 million people, making it the largest public library system in the United States. With so many avenues to acquire information, it might seem as if there is a rivalry between brick and mortar libraries and digital resources, but that is quite the contrary. The modern library has no choice but to embrace technology, not avoid it,  so that it can best serve its visitors. “Technology has become one of our most powerful tools. We’ve integrated technology into every aspect of the library to extend our reach to a larger audience, to provide them with access in the format they prefer and to develop innovative new resources that meet changing needs,” says John Szabo, City Librarian appointed by former mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, in 2012.

This is particularly useful for those who do not have regular access to computers and who can not access computer labs. There are many veterans who can not claim their benefits without access to online applications. Not every student can afford to buy a laptop so computer labs fill that gap. The Public Library also offers Angelenos courses to learn English, adult tutoring programs that teach literacy and reading programs for children. The LAPL offers more than just books.

But if books are in fact what you need, there is no shortage of them and they are available in multiple formats. The Central Library’s collection includes 2.6 million hard-copy books; 10,000 magazine subscriptions; almost 3 million historic photographs and 5 million U.S. patents. Aside from the library’s physical inventory, there is a virtual library home to e-books, audiobooks, movies and digital images. There’s also their smartphone app, Mango Languages Library Edition, which features free courses to learn over 40 foreign languages! You can basically teach yourself anything using the library’s already acquired, multi-format, easy-access information.

With the passing of Measure L, the LAPL will see an increase in available funds over a three-year period and become responsible for managing its own direct and indirect expenses.  A portion of those funds go to the library’s digital content collection, free wi-fi, access to over 2,600 computers throughout the city’s library locations, real time web-based homework help for students and computer classes on topics ranging from coding to circuitry and a sort of technology “petting zoo” where participants can try out the latest in consumer technology.

We recently had the opportunity to sit in on a meeting of the Library Commission, the governing body of the City Library, and speak with  Szabo. “The Los Angeles Public Library has always been a place that changes lives by giving people the tools they need to succeed.  Our 73 libraries are transformative places where people come for help in addressing health disparities, beginning the citizenship process, building literacy skills, finding jobs and enriching their lives in countless other ways,” he said proudly.

The meetings are held at least twice a month and open to the public. To make Los Angeles a city of the future, we need equal access to resources for all its citizens and the Los Angeles Public Library is an example of how we can provide that access and coexist as we utilize it.

 

 

 

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