Libraries save families and communities money

Published: Monday, Oct. 29 2012 4:00 p.m. MDT

Jenna Hall picks her books at the Chapman Library Monday, Oct. 22, 2012, in Salt Lake City.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

GLENDALE — Aaron Hall's family has a life full of books, music, expert advice, crafts and other activities for his kids — and it doesn't cost him a dime.

Every Monday or Tuesday, Hall takes his 8-year-old daughter, Jenna, and 10-year-old son, Zachary, to the library.

"For us it is a financial thing," says the divorced father. "Trying to buy my daughter books is insane."

And his daughter has a bibliophile's appetite and the goal to read the most books at her school, Mountain View Elementary in Salt Lake City.

His son Zachary didn't used to enjoy reading, but through the help of librarians, his dad says he has "come alive" and loves books like "Goosebumps" and superhero stories.

But for all the value Hall's family is getting out the library, he is only scratching the surface. As the way people interact with each other in society changes, and as print begins to fade away from its place as the primary way for people to read, libraries are transforming from places where things are stored to places where things are created, changed, learned, shared and dreamed.

'A great leveler'

Stephen Abram is vice president at Gale, Cengage Learning, an educational publishing company for libraries, schools and businesses, based in Farmington Hills, Mich. He also runs "Stephen's Lighthouse," a popular blog in the library sector. He says studies show that having a parent read to a child increases the child's success in school. But books can be an economic barrier for poorer parents.

"The public library is a great leveler," Abram says.

Parents cannot only access free books, but they can have the children participate in programs at the library.

On top of that, Abram says, libraries have homework centers with people to help students.

Education help doesn't just apply to children. Libraries also have programs to assist adults to improve their skills and even learn how to apply for jobs in a post-paper-resume world.

In Chattanooga, Tenn., the library responded to how large employers in town such as the Amazon company had to hire many of their employees from outside the area. The library worked to create programs, Abram says, to help people learn the computer and software skills needed by employers.

Abram also praises Salt Lake City Public Library's writing lab, which can help people develop writing skills and even support them in writing things such as novels.

Books and databases

David Lee King is the digital branch and services manager at Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library in Kansas. He says it is obvious that libraries still care about books. But libraries offer many different programs, services and things to check out that save people money. Even though libraries are tax-supported, he says, "from a customer's point of view, they are free."

And they create an experience people won't get by going to a bookstore. "We have the backlog of books," King says. "Bookstores only have the latest books; we'll have the whole set of novels by an author."

King says people can search for things on Google, but the results could be all over the place. Abram says a library card gives people access to professional, legitimate databases to find the latest verified information about everything from cancer to cars — all accessible in the library or via a home computer. "It is one thing to look up cancer on Google and find information about using peach pits," Abram says. "It is another thing to look through a database on oncology."

Libraries are also a place for using the Internet and computers for people who do not have access to one. People can also bring in their laptop computers and other devices for Internet access through WiFi.

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