Bob Harris: Libraries help users discover more information

Published: Friday, March 29, 2013 3:30 p.m. CDT

For years I have been hearing people say, “We don’t need libraries, because everything is on the Internet.” Not true on both counts, I say! Yes, a lot of things are on the Internet, but why are libraries still valuable in the Internet age? Let me count the ways.

Our library serves everyone who comes to us, including those without money, education, social connections or even good literacy skills. We provide Internet access to all, as not everyone can afford the computer hardware or data plans. We serve you where you are in life — trying to find a job, buying your first house, learning a new skill, taking up a new hobby or any of a thousand other things.

Libraries are a “third place.” Our building and grounds, and our programs, are a great place to connect with friends and strangers. You can leave the busy office and have a moment of peace, or come to a program for an impassioned dialogue with others, including experts in various fields.

Libraries are a first step to literacy. For our youngest patrons, libraries offer story hours, book talks and reading-related play to spark the imagination and create a sense of wonder. Thanks to this work, words can change from indecipherable and frustrating squiggles to sources of joy and inspiration.

Our librarians help you to use the Internet. We provide research assistance and teach how to formulate searches and choose keywords properly. Accessing the Internet is easy; accessing the full depth of the Internet is hard. Our librarians help you when you are drowning in “information” and still haven’t found what you need.

While we are helping you, we protect your privacy. There is a Library Confidentiality Law in Illinois that safeguards your private use of the library, including the Internet. And we don’t collect hackable lists of credit card numbers or broadcast our patrons’ whereabouts to the world.

Finally, we offer the human touch. The connection between a librarian and yourself is priceless. Online reviews are helpful, but nothing beats the ‘Try this one, I’ve read it and I think you’ll like it’ approach. We get to know you, and can offer personalized service.

So, next time we meet, please, don’t say, “everything is on the Internet.” There is so much more than that to be enjoyed at your local library.

Bob Harris is director of the Helen M. Plum Library, 110 W. Maple St. in Lombard. Contact him by calling 630-656-6901 or emailing bharris@helenplum.org.

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