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Paul Hawkins: Libraries serve community needs

One of the myths about libraries is that the Internet has made them obsolete. In fact, technology has increased the resources available to even the smallest library. Online information hasn’t led to big, empty spaces where the books used to be. Library space is increasingly used for computers and technology as well as study, meeting and program areas.

In our south-central region, there are a half dozen new public library building or renovation projects. If Kansans didn’t believe in the future of libraries, they wouldn’t be making investments such as those in the public libraries in Winfield and Mulvane. Another is under consideration in Wichita.

Libraries are changing by offering new resources and services that meet the unique needs of their communities. Libraries continue to add unusual items such as cake pans and fishing poles, as well as e-books, e-magazines and other digital content. Libraries offer computer training, book discussions and story hours.

Every Kansas library has books, but books come in a variety of formats. Print formats in public libraries include books with large-print type to make them easier to read; audiobooks that can be listened to; graphic novels, which are illustrated stories; and picture books for children who are learning to read. You can still visit your local library, but now that library likely also has a website with a wealth of online information accessible with your computer or smartphone.

Libraries are for use, and a measure of a good library is how well it is used. Last year, 1.6 million Kansans had public library cards and borrowed more than 26.2 million items. That data doesn’t even encompass use of school and college libraries, which is also significant. The interlibrary loan service was used to meet requests for items not locally available, providing 600,000 items to citizens and students.

Libraries have been part of community life in Kansas since the territorial period of the 1850s. In the state’s smallest towns, the local library may serve as a free bookstore, Wi-Fi spot and go-to place. Libraries are a source for lifelong reading and learning.

You won’t find the freedom to read, view or listen in the Bill of Rights, but those freedoms are essential, and libraries are a public expression of those freedoms.

Paul Hawkins is director of the South Central Kansas Library System, based in South Hutchinson.

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