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Public libraries fight to stay relevant in digital age

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It's all an effort to try to ensure that such institutions are a vibrant and relevant part of communities, which could then make it harder for funding to be cut or for buildings to be closed.

"A physical library is more than just a collection of books," says Alan Inouye, director of ALA's Office for Information Technology Policy in Washington.

In the past few years, more than 66 percent of US libraries have expanded their digital offerings, ALA says. The most common step: giving patrons the ability to browse virtual stacks and download titles to electronic devices.

Access to digital resources has been the fastest-growing area of use for the District of Columbia Public Library system, says Ginnie Cooper, its chief librarian. Both the Washington and New York City public-library systems face 40 percent cuts in the coming fiscal year.

According to a recent ALA report issued by Mr. Inouye's office, it is vital that libraries adapt to the shift in how patrons seek resources.

"The purely physical library is no longer strategically realistic," the report reads, adding that while most public libraries are maintaining their physical branches, they are increasingly being drawn toward the "virtual endpoint."

In addition to making technological strides, librarians are stressing the many free resources available to patrons. With more adults out of work and money tight, the library is a place where people can conduct employment search efforts and even continue with leisurely endeavors.

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