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Public libraries fight to stay relevant in digital age

Already facing tight budgets, public libraries are also contending with a cultural shift from traditional stacks of books to digital devices. But far from fighting the digital revolution, libraries are joining it.

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Miguel Lopez (l.) watches videos with a friend on a public library computer in Denver. The city is threatening to shutter half its libraries.

Kristen Wyatt/AP

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These days, it isn't business as usual at the Garden City Public Library in Michigan. The building is intact and the collection of books is in good shape, but no staff or patrons are on hand. That's because the library, which is just outside Detroit, closed its doors on June 17.

"It just floors me that this has come to happen here," said the library's director, James Lenze, the day before the closure. He attributed the shutdown to a reorganization of the town's financial priorities in a tumultuous economy.

The local institution is just one of America's public libraries that has struggled in recent years to stay afloat. A majority of states have reported library closures in the past 12 months, according to the American Library Association. While most of those states estimated that one or two branches shut down, some reported five to 10 closing their doors, which ALA says is part of a trend.

Many more libraries have tried to stay open by cutting back on operating hours.

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