“The golden age of public libraries dawns once again.” If you read the Washington Post , you would have encountered that bold headline in the Opinions section. The piece cited several libraries, mainly in Europe, that have worked hard to create a space that does much more than lend out books.
Most public libraries strive to create a space where community members can socialize, attend programming, gain technology and information literacy skills, and much more. It’s no wonder that more than half of the United States population is registered at a library.
But with the increase in the scope of what libraries offer comes inevitable challenges. Read on for 3 of the most common challenges facing libraries today and actionable steps librarians can take to mitigate these challenges.
Library Problem 1: Decreased Foot Traffic
Although many folks have library cards and attend library programs, the per capita visits to libraries in the United States have decreased over the last decade. Libraries took a hit during the COVID-19 pandemic, and many are still struggling to bounce back. While digital libraries are thriving (as shown by the fact that more public libraries than ever exceeded 1 million digital book checkouts in 2022), how can public libraries increase foot traffic and compete with alternatives?
Potential Solution: Libraries should continue to expand their offerings, programming, and more to appeal to the unique needs and interests of particular groups, such as immigrant communities, age groups, hobbyists, and more. By providing programming and services and crafting messaging, that resonates with particular groups, libraries could see an influx of visitors.
The Tom Green County Public Library in San Angelo, Texas shows how well this can work. Each year, the library partners with the local community college to create a rocketry camp for teens and tweens interested in physics and engineering, which brings eager and interested students to the library.
Along with targeted programming comes the necessity of generating word-of-mouth advertising and awareness within specific groups. There is a lot of good information out there on how to effectively do this, so libraries can avail themselves of that information to increase their marketing impact. A few examples from our webinars include Marketing eResources, Designing Effective Library Signage, and The Marketing Funnel.
Library Problem 2: Finding Funding
The Washington Post article mentions a library in Norway that hosts “stunning reading rooms...cinema, a 200-seat auditorium, cafes, recording studios, rehearsal spaces and game rooms.”
Needless to say, the average public library in the United States does not have the resources, funding, or space to house those state-of-the-art facilities. In fact, operation expenses and administrative costs for libraries have grown exponentially over the last several years.
There’s a common misconception that the government funds library operations, but donations, grants, fines, and fees keep libraries afloat. In recent years, however, some libraries have eliminated late fees to prevent blocking lower-income patrons from taking out materials. So how can libraries find the funding they need?
Potential Solution: Budgets will always be an issue for public facilities, but there are some things library staff can do to make the most of their funding. Offering self-help resources to patrons so they can answer their questions or learn essential skills through online tutorials can free up librarian capacity, and staff training and development can do the same.
Holding book drives and other fundraisers can go a long way, and using tools like Demco lets you easily search for applicable grants in an extensive database.
Library Problem 3: Adequately Serving Vulnerable Populations
In many communities, the underprivileged, homeless, and elderly populations turn to libraries as a safe haven. For some, libraries are the only place they can access a computer. For others, their only human contact each day comes from their library visits. Some patrons even see libraries as a place to escape the heat or cold of the outdoors.
Yet according to the American Library Association (ALA), “From illiteracy and illness to hunger and discrimination, there are many barriers that can potentially inhibit library service and disallow poor and homeless people from full access to library services.”
With library staff constantly spread thin, adequately and sensitively serving these populations and attempting to tackle these barriers to entry can be a struggle.
Potential Solution: Train all staff, including full-time staff, part-time workers, volunteers, and paraprofessionals, in how to work with underserved populations sensitively and effectively. Some librarians can also work with local health and human services departments to determine the best way to serve their homeless populations; if that’s an option, library staff should do so.
Challenges Facing Libraries Today: The Conclusion
Public libraries have the potential to be a crucial space for communities worldwide. By targeting specific groups, thinking outside the budget box, and introducing practical and relevant staff training, library staff can begin to accomplish more with less expense in less time, and focus on making an impact on patrons.
If you’re looking for a staff training and development platform designed specifically for libraries, get in touch with Niche Academy today.