In this day of smart, small technology that brings us everything we need to work, play and survive, are we surprised that millennials carry library cards?
Today’s libraries are as close as many of us get to seamless, orderly, space-age technology. (Unrelated question: When will that miraculous bed that scans a stack of stuff at once be available at the grocery store?)
You don’t even have to “go” anywhere as today’s library unlocks the virtual door to books, movies, genealogical research, etc. from around the world, digitally and easily from the comfort of home.
It’s a long way from where libraries started, as dusty collection points for clay tablets 5,000 years ago.
But libraries have a way of making themselves indispensable in every age, for every age.
Pew found that more than half of the millennials surveyed — aged 23 to 38, as of 2019 — used the library in the 12-month survey period, compared to 45 percent of Gen Xers, 43 percent of Baby Boomers and 36 percent of the preceding Silent Generation.
Bradley Chaplin, director of the Suttons Bay-Bingham District Library, explained it as an economical choice for entertainment and free Wi-Fi.
“To me, what I see with the millennial crowd is they’re much more thrifty, money savvy and apt to use things like libraries,” Chaplin said.
Our local statistics likely skew to another thrifty crowd — older, retired adults. But this powerful, local constituency has gladly turned out their pockets to expand and grow our libraries in Interlochen, Elk Rapids, Glen Lake and on Old Mission Peninsula.
We are lucky, as libraries in other communities across the country tell a different story.
Anti-tax opposition in Douglas County, Oregon, closed 11 county libraries, though several have sprung back up as township or volunteer libraries. The Noralina Town Board decided to close its library in 2017 because of expenses and disuse. Libraries are also on the federal chopping block, as the $4.7 trillion budget calls for the total shutdown of the Institute of Museum and Library Services, which supports 123,000 libraries and 35,000 museums.
Across the pond, 130 public libraries closed in Britain last year because of local funding austerity.
Even in these places where funding is scarce, libraries are “popular,” drawing cadres of volunteer forces and pushback.
A recent study in The Atlantic pointed at funding as a deciding factor in overall usage, though cuts and shortened hours tended to funnel the same numbers of people into smaller windows.
Our windows are getting larger, and for that, a thank-you to the communities that support our thriving and robust libraries system is long overdue.
— TRAVERSE CITY RECORD-EAGLE