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www.mybaycity.com September 23, 2007
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Bay County Library Millage - Answers You Want

MyBayCity.com asks Is the Public Library relevant in the Internet age?

September 23, 2007       Leave a Comment
By: Stephen Kent

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This is the second article in which the MyBayCity staff works to get factual answers to questions asked about the Bay County Library millage election.

This week we want to address the relevancy of the public library in the era of the Internet and Google. As one reader recently wrote "GOOGLE has made libraries irrelevant in doing research".

During the last millage campaign we talked to a number of people about that question. Our sources included students, teachers, staff, and administrators from local high school and colleges. Overwhelmingly the response was that the Public Library is essential.

We asked if the libraries at school are not enough. The answer was that at the public school level, libraries have been cut to the bone and in some cases eliminated. Those that remain are not open every day and the resources are limited. The schools expect serious students to use the public library.

At the college level the libraries tend to support the courses taught at the institution. They do not attempt the broad coverage of the public library. College libraries are usually available to students only. High school students and the general public do not have access.

Concerning the Internet, the public library is the great equalizer. In this area computers are not found in every home. Even where they are, high speed access is not yet the norm. The Bay County Library system provides high speed access for free to everyone at every branch. Staff is also available to answer questions. Even with the greatly expanded number of computers at the new Wirt Library, one may still find a waiting line.

Assuming that a computer with high speed Internet service is available the question remains "is the Internet enough"? We would suggest that for serious research it is not enough. Google and the other search engines are a great starting point, but books and periodicals provide the depth to back up the Internet.

The printed word has other significant advantages over the Internet. The MyBayCity technical library is loaded with books. The staff uses the Internet for a great many things, but nothing can replace our well used, yellow highlighted, margin noted books. The Internet can't match the flexibility of having several book open on the desk with scraps of paper marking the significant passages.

If you consider recreational, inspirational and educational reading, the Internet doesn't come close. You can't curl up with a laptop and quietly study. You can't take it to the bathroom to read. The computer industry has been promising electronic books for years. They still seem a long way off, and when they arrive you'll probably go to the library to check out the media to read on your electronic paper.

Consider two final points comparing the Internet to the printed word. First, giant bookstores are a huge business. Take a look at Barnes and Nobel and see if they're being forced out of business by the Internet. While you're at it, take a look at the prices on the hundreds of books in the computer section.

Second, take a look at how colleges view libraries. If the Internet was the answer, the college libraries would be in decline. Instead colleges have huge libraries and are building more and better ones all the time.

Perhaps the library will become irrelevant someday. It probably won't happen in our lifetimes.

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Stephen Kent

Steve Kent and his family have lived in Bay City for 40 years. He is VP of Technical Services at MMCC which produces MyBayCity.Com. Kent is active in many Bay City civic organizations.

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