Παρασκευή, Αυγούστου 08, 2014
As the Winter Park Public Library looks into the possibility of getting a new building to replace the aging one being used now, there’s another crucial message they’re hoping to get out to the public.
Namely, it’s that libraries are not at all what they used to be, and play a very different role today.
That’s true, said the library’s executive director, Shawn Shaffer, even though the Winter Park Public Library remains one of the oldest in the state.
“We are the first public library is Central Florida, and the fifth in the state,” she said. “We get 25,000 people a year come through our doors. We’re a busy place, and we have a lot of people come in and out.”
Some people, though, still think of libraries as place where people do one thing: find and borrow books, Shaffer said. The role of libraries today, she said, has definitely evolved.
“Libraries aren’t really in the book business,” Shaffer said. That view was reinforced in her mind, Shaffer said, when a man recently asked her if libraries were about to go out of business altogether.
“The man next to me said, ‘You’re a dinosaur, right, and you’re going to go away,’ and I did a presentation for him on why we weren’t going away,” she said.
In the age of the Internet, Shaffer said, librarians are actually more interested in whether they are fully wired for computers, laptops, Ipads and Ipods than whether they have enough books on the shelves.
“We’re really in the information business,” she said. “Public libraries are unique American institutions. The idea of freely lending information to other people is uniquely American.”
More and more adults come to libraries, she said, not for books, but for information on everything from job hunting to resume writing to starting their own business.
“We’re also moving to this new world where we’ll help you get into content creation,” Shaffer said. For example, if someone has written a book, the library has the equipment to help them get their writings into book form, “and then they can go out to Park Avenue and try to sell them,” Shaffer said. “There are machines that do that. There is this digital world that recognizes the global marketplace out there.”
Libraries can now serve as business centers, she said, with a conference room available for those who need to host an executive meeting.
“We are available if you are working at home and need a fancy conference room,” Shaffer said. “You could start your whole business at the library.”
All of these changes, she said, are redefining what libraries do and how they serve the community.
“It’s a really exciting time,” she said. “The world is really open to us. There’s tons of amazing things we can do.”
Of course, the library still serves its traditional purpose as well, Shaffer said – particularly for their youngest customers.
“Kids are still reading books,” she said. “I love it when a kid just finds a book and plops down on the floor and starts reading it.”
Jeffrey Jontz, a member of the Library Task Force that is looking into the possibility of getting a new building, agreed that libraries serve a greater role in a community today than it ever did.
While some people think libraries have become irrelevant, he said, “Eight-hundred people a day want to go down to that ‘irrelevant’ place. It’s as relevant as it’s ever been.”