What Libraries Do

Libraries are places of information. When most people think "library" they think books. And while that is certainly true, these days books take different shapes, such as e-books and audio books. More than just books, libraries are places of information, offering people free access to a wealth of information that they often can't find elsewhere, whether online, in print or in person. Whether they're looking for DVDs or the latest best-seller; health or business information found  on internet databases not accessible at home, or going for story times and community programming, the library is a center of community for millions of people. 

America's 123,000 libraries fall into four basic types (with a few added variations): Public, School, Academic and Special. There are also Armed Forces libraries, Government libraries and multi-use or Joint-Use libraries, which combine library types in one service area or structure. Learn more about America's libraries

At the center of all types of libraries is the librarian. Librarians are information experts, selecting books relevant to the community, creating helpful programming, and connecting people to information. 

“Google can bring you back 100,000 answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one.”

Neil Gaiman, Author

Build Community

Libraries are community hubs. In addition to connecting people to information, libraries connect people to people. They are safe havens for kids when school is not in session, offering after school homework help, games and book clubs. Libraries offer computer classes, enabling older adults stay engaged in a digital world. Bookmobiles and community outreach programs keep those living in remote areas or those who are homebound connected to the larger community.

Public libraries also help communities cope with the unexpected. The rollout of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has many public libraries struggling to keep up with the demand for public computer terminals and with requests for help in using the act’s website. Libraries also play a key role in the wake of natural disasters; after Hurricane Sandy, for example, people left homeless by the storm were filling libraries in New York and New Jersey, using library computers to complete federal forms and communicating with loved ones using the library’s internet connections.

Provide Access

Libraries level the playing field. As great democratic institutions, serving people of every age, income level, location, ethnicity, or physical ability, and providing the full range of information resources needed to live, learn, govern, and work.

Promote Literacy

Libraries are committed to helping children and adults develop the skills they need to survive and thrive in a global information society: the ability to read and use computers.

Basic, functional literacy is an essential skill for an individual’s personal and professional growth—it is also key to their full, beneficial use of a library’s services and programs.  Yet, according to a study conducted in 2013 by the U.S. Department of Education and National Institute of Literacy, 32 million adults in the U.S.—14 %—cannot read. 21% of adults in the U.S. read below a 5th grade level, and 19% of high school graduates can't read at all.

The implications of these statistics are alarming, indicating that many adults cannot identify a specific location on a map, complete a job application or an insurance form, understand the instructions on a medicine bottle, or effectively help their children with homework.  

With a long tradition of providing resources and services for adults wanting to improve their reading and writing skills, libraries are committed to helping children and adults develop the skills they need to survive and thrive in a global information society.

Protect Your Rights

Libraries are advocates for your right to read and your right to reader privacy.

Freedom of information is fundamental to the American way of life, and free and full access sets us apart from many countries. Libraries and librarians are committed to preserving both the freedom to read in order to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all. Protecting user privacy and confidentiality is another integral part of the mission of libraries.

Innovate

Libraries are places for community engagement, a platform for great minds to come together. The way people are using our libraries is changing as fast as technology is changing society. Increasingly, libraries are becoming a place for creation and collaboration. 

Makerspaces

In recent years, libraries of all types have begun to create space and activities that center around creativity. From rewiring a lamp, to 3D printers, to sewing circles, libraries are capitalizing on a priceless commodity: the sharing of personal knowledge, or learning by doing.

Gaming

In the 21st century, libraries are about much more than books! In fact, libraries work very hard to provide patrons of all ages with a rich and current menu of CDs and DVDs, as well as electronic and online resources. Video game resources and programs at the library actually complement these existing services. Featuring this new gaming media helps the library expand its reach while meeting community expectations.. They are also gaining ground in schools as valuable resources that introduce and reinforce a variety of curricular, social and life skills.  Read more.

Actor, director, and writer Emilio Estevez shares his passion for libraries in his new video Public Service Announcements highlighting the crucial role libraries play in our communities and in our democracy, and we couldn't be more excited about it!  Estevez is an advocate for libraries and encourages others to join him, and plays a librarian in his new movie “The Public,” which he calls a “love letter” to libraries. “The Public” will open in theaters April 5—right in time for National Library Week (April 7-13). READ MORE
In the summer of 2012, Seema and Suraj Korumilli, then 12-year-old twins from Plainsboro, New Jersey, visited Kapileswarapuram, India, their ancestral homeland. “Walking through the village,” Seema recalls, “was a coming-of-age moment.”The siblings—now first-year students at Northeastern—were shocked by the lack of books, computers, and other educational resources available to the villagers and vowed to effect positive change. As Seema explains, “We felt like it would have been a crime if we didn’t give back to the community that had fostered our entire family and become an integral part of our identity.”They chose to focus on education. “We decided we would become the solution to eradicating illiteracy,” Suraj says, “and the first step to doing that was creating libraries.” READ MORE
 

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