the future of public libraries

The Future of Libraries…New Hope, PA

This week I read in my local newspaper, The Bucks County Herald, there’s a new developer trying to buy prime real estate in New Hope, PA, in order to build a new 4 million dollar library that will be surrounded by new condos. The property he wants to buy is only three acres, with a grand old mansion that’s filled with local history. The links above provide more information.

New Hope has always been a small tourist attraction with a diverse community of artists, writers, actors, and creative types. Because of the location, it attracts New Yorkers, Philadelphians, and everyone in between. Some come from all over the world. The theater history goes back to the mid-twentieth century with the Bucks County Playhouse, and it’s still not uncommon to see Barbra Streisand walking through town, among other celebrities, at certain times of the year.

But New Hope is still a small town, and I couldn’t help wondering about building a new library for millions of dollars. Tourists don’t come here for the library, they come for the attractions. In the past, I always frequented the library. As an author, I did research, had my name on lists for the newest book releases, and kept my library card as up to date as I keep my driver’s license. But in all honesty, I haven’t been to the library in years. I do my research online, I order my e-books online, and I don’t even bother with DVD’s anymore. I just order movies On-Demand. If I need copies of something…once or twice a year now…I go to the UPS store.

I’ve read different articles on the future of libraries in general and no one seems to be taking a firm stand one way or the other. In large cities, I’ve heard reports that public libraries have become more like community centers, where people can come in out of the summer heat and winter cold to use computers and socialize with each other. In small towns like New Hope, the only people I know who actually go to the library anymore are older people who wouldn’t know a blackberry communication device from a blackberry pie. But I can’t even say it’s an age thing, because my 77 year old mother has stopped going to the library completely and now reads all her books on an ipad. And so do most of her friends.

At this point, I don’t think anyone can predict the future of libraries. I wouldn’t even try to make a prediction like this. And I still love libraries, even though I don’t go anymore. I’m hoping for a compromise. A lot of people believe libraries will evolve into research and learning centers…much like what’s now happening in large city libraries where people use them as community centers. Which would be nice in concept. This way we don’t lose the beloved tradition of the public library. We just help it evolve into something different, which will benefit everyone in the community.

But I do think that before any small community decides to take the advice of a property developer with a personal agenda, who is promoting an expensive new libraray along with his brand new condos, that community should take the time to do a little research about the future of libraries (or community learning centers) before they make any definite commitments.