Today on Twitter, I have held a dialogue with @carlalynnehall, sprouting from the decision by the City of Philadelphia, PA to close all of their public libraries. This clearly is a loss to the public, no matter what the reasoning (or excuses) are for this.
The closure of libraries deny people of all levels of income access to books, magazines, periodicals and other educational media they might not otherwise have access to. This brought us to probably the most contentious area of free library offers.
Many printed elements, such as encyclopedias, newspapers, and accurate, scholarly material once only available in libraries has moved to the internet, accessible by anyone in the (free) world with a computer, iPhone or other internet surfing device.
Just as long as you have access to one.
The library of 2009 has been divided into two elements: computers with internet access and everything else. Are these computers, which let people access all these library-esque tasks, practical for libraries to have. What percentage of a library’s budget should go to them? 50%? More? Less?
Remember, these computers could be open to recreational use as well. Email, Facebook and other social media, online games, watching last night’s episode of Family Guy on Hulu. They could also be used to search for, and apply to jobs. But does this all belong in the same publicly funded building where one can find materials to help study for an exam? Public internet access can be subject to abuse. Look at the Apple Store, especially in large cities like New York. The public uses them for many educational and recreational activities, even though they clearly have no desire (or money) to purchase the computers. It does probably instill the Apple brand in these freeloaders, so when they can afford a computer, they get a Mac. But is this the best way for people who can’t afford a PC and internet access to get it?
There are internet-enabled computers in other public walks of life. How about opening up computer labs at public schools and universities when they are not being used for school use? Or how about the creation of public computer labs, with money used for them separate from libraries?
I would like to hear your feedback. Does public internet access NEED to be an element of public libraries? Discuss.