Libraries are facing an identity crisis. According to the American Library Association, more than 99 percent of American public libraries offer free Internet access, and 73 percent of those libraries are the only source of free public access in their communities.
The Associated Press reorts that the demand for Internet access and computer time in libraries has done nothing but grow, yet few libraries have plans to expand their technology offerings.
The culprits are infrastructure and money. Computers cost more than libraries can afford in most cases, and if the libraries could afford them, often they do not have space to house them or the electrical wiring necessary to power them.
So what is a library to do? Some, mentioned in the AP article, are cutting staff to pay for computers. Others, and this will surely shock some, are cutting down on book spending.
Is this a turning point? Libraries have become an expected “right” for all Americans, and free access to information has been touted as one of the cornerstones of a democracy for years on end. Yet do we need to abandon our notion that such information needs to come from books? Being public institutions, can libraries ignore the public’s demand for more computers and faster Internet access on principle?