Library construction is booming in US, surprising doomsayers.
By now, public libraries should have been starting to check out. Computers, and the Internet in particular, were expected to have started rendering printed books and magazines obsolete. The sort of research that once required consultation with a librarian would be done instead with the help of Yahoo or Google, technology enthusiasts wrote.
And yet, rather than lead to the demise of libraries, the World Wide Web may have turned out to be a their saving grace. The Internet is fueling an increase in library use which, in turn, has led to a library-construction and renovation boom.
Last year, $686 million was spent on library construction the second-highest dollar total ever spent, and a 15 percent increase over a decade ago, American Library Association data shows. Aside from the construction of 80 new libraries, 132 existing ones underwent renovations: creating new space, wiring old buildings for high-speed Internet access, and buying computers.
"People have been saying and writing that libraries aren't going to be around much longer, that books are irrelevant, but the renovation of buildings and adding new buildings is an affirmation," says Maurice Freedman, ALA president and director of the Westchester County, N.Y. library system. "The allocation of serious money says Americans all over this nation believe their libraries have a future."
Indeed, to paraphrase an author whose books are probably housed in every one of them, reports of the death of public libraries were greatly exaggerated. Cheap access to the Internet as well as to compact discs and DVDs have become a huge draw, and computers also have made using the library itself significantly easier, Mr. Freedman says.
As a result, about 1.7 billion items were checked out of America's 122,000 libraries in 1999, (the last year for which the figure is available), up 21 percent from 1990. And voters in 23 states passed referendums supporting libraries in 2001, including the approval of $46.4 million in Loudoun County, Va., and $40 million in Houston; New Mexico plans to ask voters for $35 million for libraries this fall.