What Libraries Do

Today's libraries are more than just books.

What Libraries Do

Today’s libraries are more than just books. From teaching critical literacy skills to promoting entrepreneurship and small business development to preserving and facilitating our community stories, an easier question might be what don’t libraries do! Check out some examples of what libraries of all types are doing for their communities.

Libraries Provide Access

Libraries level the playing field. As great democratic institutions, they serve people of every age, income level, location, ethnicity, and physical ability, and provide the full range of information resources needed to live, learn, govern, and work.

Libraries have played a key role in keeping their communities connected during the pandemic by:

  • providing Wi-Fi 24-7 outside of library buildings and in library parking lots
  • bringing connectivity to neighborhoods-in-need with Wi–Fi–enabled library vehicles and hotspots
  • loaning hotspots and other devices such as tablets and laptops to students, teachers, parents, job seekers, veterans, and others for home use
  • offering virtual and in-library support for the tasks that library users need to complete online
  • partnering with local government, non-profits, businesses, and other groups to identify and fill connectivity gaps

Libraries Build Community

Libraries are community hubs. They connect people to information and connect people to people. They are safe havens for kids, providing after-school homework help, games, and book clubs. They offer computer classes, allowing older adults to stay engaged in a digital world. And library bookmobiles and community outreach programs help those living in remote areas and those who are home bound to remain connected to the world.

Public libraries also help people cope with the unexpected, particularly in the wake of natural disasters. After Hurricane Sandy in 2012, people left homeless by the storm-filled libraries in New York and New Jersey, using the library’s computers to complete federal forms and communicate with loved ones. America’s libraries also contribute to economic vitality in virtually every community across the country. With a history of bridging gaps in access to information resources and education, libraries are instrumental in helping communities tackle economic divides.

For many, library resources are an accessible way to explore entrepreneurship, build skills, and gather information that can be used to launch a new business idea, investigate a new way to earn income and make a living, or even get started with a new hobby to make extra money. Libraries offer a low-barrier way to learn and test out ideas without investing a lot up front. For some of the smallest enterprises, such as micropreneurs and solopreneurs, this is crucial.

In fact, almost 1 in 2 libraries in the US provide free services to entrepreneurs who wish to start and grow their business.1 This ranges from offering free access to market trends databases to hosting business coaching classes, providing incubation space, and in some cases, providing seed capital through business plan competitions.

Libraries Promote Literacy

Libraries are committed to helping children and adults develop the skills needed to survive and thrive in a global information society. The ability to read and use computers are at the forefront of these skills.

Basic, functional literacy is an essential skill for personal and professional growth. It is also essential to a full, beneficial use of a library’s services and programs. However, 32 million adults in the U.S.—14 %—cannot read, according to a study conducted in 2013 by the U.S. Department of Education and National Institute of Literacy. That same report found that 21% of adults in the U.S. read below a 5th grade level, and 19% of high school graduates can’t read at all.

The implications of these statistics are alarming. Many adults cannot identify a specific location on a map, complete a job application or an insurance form, understand the instructions on a medicine bottle, or effectively help their children with homework. With a long tradition of providing resources and services for individuals who want to improve their reading and writing skills, libraries are committed to helping people enhance and improve their learning literacy skills to live a fuller life.

Libraries Protect Your Rights

Libraries are advocates for everyone’s right to read and right to privacy.

Freedom of information is fundamental to the American way of life, and it sets us apart from many countries. Libraries and librarians are committed to preserving the freedom to read to enhance learning and to ensure access to information for all.

Libraries manifest the promises of the First Amendment by making available the widest possible range of viewpoints, opinions, and ideas, so that every person has the opportunity to freely read and consider information and ideas, regardless of their content or the viewpoint of the author. Librarians are trained to curate collections that serve the information needs of everyone in their community.

Libraries across the country are currently experiencing an unprecedented spike in censorship attempts with a focus on books that address the voices and lived experiences of Black, Indigenous, people of color and LGBTQIA+ individuals.

In the last three months of 2021, the American Library Association Office for Intellectual Freedom received more reports of censorship requests at libraries than in all of 2020.


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