At library convention, tales of keeping up with technology despite shrinking budgets

A new report says Philadelphia’s Free Library is trying to change with the times in an era of flat funding. Well, it turns out a lot of librarians are in town for the annual meeting of the Public Library Association. Their message: Philadelphia’s system is not alone. The space it takes to put a computer in a library could hold 600 books. And with funding tight, libraries around the country have to make some tough choices. “We are weeding a lot of general materials out of there. we have gone through like changing our reference department and condensing it,” said Lisa Lavelle, a librarian at the Tamarac branch library near Fort Lauderdale.

New ways of reading also put librairies on defense. “There’s an annual town meeting,” said Lesley Dolinger, director of the Patten Free Library in Bath, Maine, “where people show up to vote to support the library or not every single year.”

“One of the community members held up his iPhone and said ‘I have an iPhone, why do I need the library?'”Dolinger says her library is trying to make a strong case, including offering more technology training. Pew’s report found library use up around the country, especially demand for library computers.But with funding flat, if not decreasing, library consultant Jeffrey Scherer says libraries are reexamining their priorities. “The last three or four years there’s been a shift from planning of buildings to the strategic thinking about the role of the library how it’s to be redesigned, how it can respond to all the technological changes,” said Scherer.Almost all the assembled librarians had stories of leaving positions unfilled because of budget cuts and those still on the job trying to keep up with demand.Scherer says just like all Americans in their personal lives, libraries have to make decisions about what they can and can’t afford.

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