Libraries everywhere face the threat of extinction. In today’s day and age, public libraries are loaning out fewer books and gearing more towards job training workshops, English classes, providing a community meeting place, and giving people the opportunity to get internet access.
In fact, a number of citizens across the United States are starting their own do-it-yourself libraries, where they provide members a key to a reading room, a Wi-Fi password, and access to books 24 hours a day.
What’s surprising is that public libraries face a number of challenges they may not overcome. For example, the New York libraries draw in more visitors than the New York Yankees, Mets, Knicks, Giants, Jets, Nets, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, aquariums, zoos, and Madison Square Garden combined, according to a story by the New York Times.
About nine million people attend New York’s sporting events at places like the Barclay’s Center and Madison Square Garden. Close to 21 million New Yorkers and visitors attend museums, historical sites, zoos, botanical gardens, and live performances.
On the other hand, The New York libraries have nearly 37 million users — more visitors than all the sporting events, live performances, zoos, and museum attendance combined. But, according to public library officials, the 217 New York public libraries face a $1.1 billion maintenance crisis.
In a March 2015, New York Library special report, officials claim the New York libraries get far less government funding for building maintenance, including out-of-order restrooms, heating and cooling, chronic water damage, entrance barriers for the handicapped, unused space, overcrowding, broken elevators, and malfunctioning windows that cause chronic leaks and drafts.
In some locations, the libraries do not have enough space to accommodate the amount of visitors wanting access to the free facilities.
An excerpt from the special report included the poor state of Brooklyn’s Brownsville Library cooling system problems.
“The branch faces chronic HVAC issues and is routinely forced to close on hot days, even though four temporary chillers were brought in to replace the broken AC system.”
Libraries are also challenged, facing the threat of extinction due to technology and company’s like Amazon and Netflix.
In a Forbes article, authors of the book Big Bang Disruption, Paul Nunes and Larry Downes, offer a list of products, fast becoming obsolete, that millions of people frequently used.
“Address books, video cameras, pagers, wristwatches, maps, books, travel games, flashlights, home telephones, dictation recorders, cash registers, Walkman, Day-Timers, alarm clocks, answering machines, yellow pages, wallets, keys, phrase books, transistor radios, personal digital assistants, dashboard navigation systems, remote controls, airline ticket counters, newspapers and magazines, directory assistance, travel and insurance agents, restaurant guides and pocket calculators.”
Public libraries are making the necessary adjustments in order to keep from going under. They still allow access to free books. They also offer great opportunities for learning and advancement — from Wi-Fi and computer access to educational programs and job search support.
If the libraries cannot maintain their buildings and keep up with changing technology, philanthropist Andrew Carnegie’s vision to build and maintain a public library within walking distance of everyone’s home may become a revelation of the past.
[Featured image via Spencer Platt/Getty Images]