Thursday, October 22, 2009

West Florida Public Library

With the opening of the new Tryon library, it is a good time to consider the value of the investment in the public library system. Public libraries are invaluable for a community. They are a statement about the importance of an educated population, one that continues learning throughout their lives. Libraries today are also more than just a book repository. They provide resources of all kinds, from travel videos to books on cds, from language tapes to internet access. (When we visit my in-laws, we spend time at the local library for high speed internet access so my husband and I can continue to work on our vacations.) Children's programs expand learning opportunities and create life-long library users.

From last October to this July, for example, our library:
  • circulated 646,000 items
  • responded to 65,500 information requests
  • had 510,000 people using one of the branches
  • had 140,000 people using computers
  • had 9,300 children attend programs
Think about this. If, instead of checking things out from the library, people bought 646,000 paperback novels, it would have consumed about 300 trees. Those books would fill 10 miles of shelves. And they would have cost several million dollars.

Sometimes I hear about the future demise of libraries. As more people gain internet access, they will have greater access to online information and there will be no need for reference desks. Kindles and other electronic books will replace print. So far I haven't seen it. Recently I was picking my son up, and another mom was standing reading from a Kindle. I asked her about it. She loves it, particularly having a selection of books for her recent flight, moving here from Okinawa. But, she said, she also loves libraries, browsing the stacks, thinking about all of the people who have read the book before.

As Rebecca Ryan, who recently spoke to the Pensacola Chamber of Commerce, has noted, young workers pride themselves on lifelong learning; one of her metrics for an area's success at recruiting and retaining young professionals is the Learning Index. Strong libraries can improve the lifelong learning opportunities in our city, improving our local economy.

The new Tryon branch is open on Langley. Soon the geneology department will move to the old Tryon location. The city is working on the plans for a new downtown library. I look forward to the strengthening of our library system to improve education opportunities, from teaching kids to read to supporting life-long learning, in our city.

Hope to see you at the Tryon library grand opening Friday (Oct 23) at 2 pm!