Libraries work to stay relevant in the 21st century

Published: Apr. 26, 2019 at 10:40 PM CDT
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LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - Libraries have existed for centuries but now there’s question about the necessity of libraries in a digital age.

Some would say we have the same information as libraries at our fingertips but for those in the business, they feel that’s more fiction than fact.

With well over 500,000 visits a year, The Calcasieu Parish Public Library has played a major role in the overall living experience for many Lake Area residents. These vast learning institutions offer way more than just books.

“I’m 78-years-old and I’ve been going to the library since a kid, I’ve seen them change dramatically,” Frank McDonald, an avid library-goer, said.

Marjorie Harrison, the director of the Calcasieu Parish Library says while living in a more modernized time, one of the biggest challenges facing the library profession is staying relevant to its users.

“I guess to me what’s kind of changed is, what’s the look of the resource or what is the material that we’re sharing," Harrison said.

There are 13 libraries all across Calcasieu Parish with nearly 700,000 visitors every year. It’s a place where people not only check out books, but use free services like the internet to find a job and where people can volunteer.

“It’s not only about people using the material, they’re coming and using the spaces, they’re meeting to learn and have lifelong learning, they’re coming for programming so the books are still important but it’s about coming together,” Denelle Wrightson, library planning & designer, said.

Which has now prompted most local branches to now offer a number of unique amenities, like basic tech services.

“If you want to use a computer you can come right here and use your library card to check out a laptop and then take it anywhere you want," Harrison said.

They even offer unconventional printing methods, for instance you can have bare necessities made with the push of a button right at the library.

“I had someone who needed a replacement part for their fridge and they had the specs for it and we built it for them and printed and they put it in their fridge and now it works again," said Jacob, Innovation studio worker.

Click here for a link to some of the newer services offered at the Calcasieu Parish Public Library.

Click here for a list of resources.

As we proceed through an ever changing millennium the question for most may not be what will the 21st century library look like but more so is it valid for the current communities and their realities?

Lousiana State librarian, Rebecca Hamilton believes the answer to that question is a definite yes.

“If we look at usage and how much public libraries and the state library are used today we’re as relevant or more relevant than ever before because we’re seeing statistics that are up," Hamilton said. "Technology has driven more people to the library because in Louisiana 38% of our people don’t have home internet connections so we’re behind the country in some broadband numbers.”

In 2017 alone, more than 17.2 million people visited Louisiana public libraries and checked out over 36 million items and when it comes to programs and services, out of the 340 public libraries throughout the state, 2 million people attended more than 92 thousand programs.

Louisiana offered all of these services while facing drastic cuts over the years.

“In Louisiana after Katrina and Rita about 1/3 of our public libraries were closed because we had lost about 30 of them and library usage statewide was only down 1 percent," Hamilton said.

What about library funding?

While state money does help support some local libraries across the country, that’s not the case in Louisiana. Local dollars approved through millage proposals make up the majority of the budget for libraries in Calcasieu Parish.

“Ninety-eight percent of our total funding is from that tax so you can’t scale back 98 percent of funding. You’d have 2 percent left and that might buy 20 books with no funding and no staff," Harrison said.

However, it’s something that Harrison said Lake Area residents generally support.

“I believe it was Lafayette, that their tax issue failed right prior to ours so we really put on an effort so I was excited to see what a good sport but I think it’s because the general attitude of the public in Lake Charles was very much for the libraries," Board of trustees member, Paul Arnold, said.

Despite what you may hear about the death of print books and the lack of interest in libraries Rebecca Hamilton said you’re more than likely hearing it from a source that hasn’t taken a recent trip to their local branch.

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