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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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   Libraries have been around for centuries. Despite the benefits libraries offer to their members, there is an overlying perception that libraries are futile as they can be replaced by technology. This trending perception supported through a lack of understanding of library declination has dissuaded support for local libraries in communities. Therefore, reevaluating how libraries are beneficial for communities in terms of sustainability, will help the readers understand their struggle for survival, and hopefully provoke support for their local library.

   Before evaluating how local libraries are valuable to communities, establishing a clear definition of sustainability is imputable to understand how libraries are sustainable. According to Swarbrooke, sustainability refers to “development which meets our needs today without compromising the ability of people in the future to meet their needs…the concept of sustainability clearly embraces the environment, people and economic systems” (Swarbrooke, 1999). In other words, taking a long-term perspective for human decision making is important. Especially for large scale decisions that involve communities. Furthermore, due to the growing social and environmental consciousness within communities, local libraries have become part of the sustainability discussion.

   Moreover, libraries are placed in ubiquitous places. To many they symbolize local identity, a strong community connection, and or the emblem of knowledge. However, as libraries have become under-appreciated overtime, the benefits or the values of libraries to a community have been forgotten. Furthermore, by highlighting the importance and benefits through social capital, public good, and resources will show that libraries are valuable and sustainable to communities.

   First and foremost, library's in communities build social capital. The study by Johnson and Griffis indicate that the “participants from small towns had higher levels of social capital than the urban participants. However, in contrast with urban participants, library use had no significant association with levels of social capital for small town participants” (Johnson and Griffis, 2013). The finding implies that libraries build more social capital in urban areas than in rural areas, for the very reason that rural areas have inherently a stronger community through environmental reasons. However, this means that libraries can create a stronger unity in communities where social capital is lacking, such as cities. This is important to sustainability, because building or increasing social capital in communities raises the quality of life.

   Although libraries will have more effect on urban than rural areas, this does not deter away from the fact that libraries are considered “public goods”. According to Berry, “there are many business practices a library can effectively use. But it is important to remember that despite employing management or marketing innovations, we are still not competing in a marketplace” (Berry, 2016). While Berry does make a compelling point, many believe that those that use the library should pay for such a service when signing up to become a member. However, public libraries are meant to serve everyone although it is costly and particularly not efficient; communities need libraries to disseminate information that individuals need in order to prosper and become educated. As the saying goes, if one benefits, all benefit. In addition, libraries are an example of good governance which is an important part of sustainability.

   Although libraries are the emblem of knowledge and free thinking, advancements in technology has opened a dark door for libraries. This has led many people to think that libraries will become futile in the future. However, “for a number of years, library media specialists have instinctively known that library automation is a “good thing” (Sharps, 2005). Through library automation, libraries can classify as many resources as possible and identify their location within an instant. This has enhanced the experience of searching and identifying the books location by tenfold, as it has created a quick an efficient way to gather information. To further better their services to the public, library media specialists created “Integrated Library Systems (ILS) that act as a multifunctional, web-based multimedia content information management system built on a standard relational database structure” (Sharps, 2005). Thus, enabling library media centers to connect to scholars with easy access to electronic resource and digitalized special collections. An example of this would be Masons information portals that connect all of the libraries digitalized information and resources online. Through this resource and service provided by the school's library, students, teachers and faculty that are members of Mason can access the catalog to identify and select appropriate target resources. Conclusively, creating an efficient way to access and gather information is an act of good governance and a push towards academia. As stated before, libraries are a resource and service that has evolved over time to meet the needs of today and the future. With the existence of libraries and the work of dedicated library media specialist to educate and change the world through the art of literature, the push to expand and educate individuals within communities will overall increase the quality of life.

   The trend in the decline of libraries have been in momentum for years during stable and vulnerable times in the economy. Before the recession, The Economist published an article stating that according to a new report by Tim Coates, “spending on libraries is up, visits have declined by 21% and numbers of books borrowed by 35% in the last ten years” (Anonymous, 2004). After the recession, the journal reports that the trend in state government funding has been little to nothing shutting down more than 65 libraries in 2008 (Horton and Pronevitz, 2015). Surprisingly, fiscal difficulties have pushed libraries to become more sustainable and efficient.

   In times of economic downturn, libraries are susceptible to cuts within their funding. As a result, consortia became more prevalent as libraries downsized. The term consortia refer to the partnerships or networks of collaborating libraries. During the Great Recession in late 2007, research for the journal: Library Consortia: Models for Collaboration and Sustainability “found that 21 percent of consortia surveyed in the LNCC have closed or merged” (Horton and Pronevitz, 2015). The practice of consortia proves to be sustainable in terms of their delivery to clienteles, group purchasing, and library empowerment.   

   Consortia allows a number of libraries to achieve resource sharing and reciprocity of benefits. This has allowed a network of libraries to share integrated library systems, internet service providers, digitalized programs and assets, offsite storage, e-book collection, serial exchange coordination, interlibrary loan, and online physical delivery (Posigha et al., 2015). Resource sharing has shown a couple of benefits that have impacted and created sustainability for libraries. Through resource sharing, libraries are able meet the increasing demands for certain material. Also, it has created a way to disseminate information to libraries located in different social or economic standing communities.

   Group purchasing has allowed libraries to run an efficient amount of resources. In other words, instead of having each library individually purchase their own supplies, database, materials, and equipment, libraries are extending the value of every dollar spent (Horton and Pronevitz, 2015). From a sustainability standpoint, libraries were able to achieve and make use of less resources when conducting their institution. Which overall has created a more efficient way of running libraries.

   Libraries serve more than just a place that hold books. Their services include “virtual reference, library marketing and graphic materials creation, advocacy, human resources management, fiscal support, publications or e-mail group support, videoconferencing, meeting-room facilities, and summer reading programs” (Horton and Pronevitz, 2015). In addition, faculties of libraries are more than book worms and library patrons, they are social workers. Across the United States, “libraries of all types are developing new approaches to the veterans in their patron populations in wake of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan” (LeMire, 2017). Some of these approaches are through seminars and workshops that help veterans build skill sets to assimilate back into society in a safe environment. Conclusively, libraries are able to conduct life changing projects that extend beyond all walks of life within their realm.

   As stated previously, the lack of government funding has pushed libraries to close or merge. Although funding is a blatant issue, it is imperative to reinforce that there are different types of libraries in terms of state and level of institution. This is important to emphasize as many of the common myths of library declination imply that there is a misconception from taxpayers that all libraries are diminishing, and that libraries are funded by the federal government.

   Moreover, some argue that the level of activity within a library depends on the level or type of institution. Published by the American Library Association, Applegate's data demonstrates “that a decline is indeed detectable in the most commonly used measures of reference activity in academic libraries” (Applegate, 2008). Furthermore, Applegate continues by stating that “reference transactions do seem to be in decline in all types of libraries, but to the greatest degree in ARL and other doctoral institutions” (Applegate, 2008). Implying that while some library institutions are used less than others, there is an overall decline in reference activity. However, this study does not measure or include out-side reference activities that libraries conduct as well. Implying that there is a possibility that the activity within libraries are no longer diminishing.

   Although the question of library usage has come to question, the answer can be linked to the common misconception that libraries are the responsibility of the federal government. This is false, as the funding of libraries is based at the state level (Advocacy in Action, 2015). Meaning that the constituents for each state have a huge impact in deciding the funding for libraries through a referendum. By analyzing these referendums, libraries that need more help than others can be spotted by studying past referendums. For instance, in the journal “Referenda Roundup, 2004: Good News for Many Libraries”, the voters in Maine passed a levy tax that could force many libraries to close or begin charging fees, while in New Mexico, voters approved to dedicate “$16.3 million to enhance collections in public, school, and academic libraries throughout the state” (Eberhart, 2005). While this is not highlighted enough to the public, the lack of emphasis that regional differences play a large part in library funding is crucial to give an honest and complete understanding of where libraries stand in general. While this may deter the urgency to provoke support for libraries, this should not. Instead, knowing and appreciating states that do support their libraries, should influence other states to do the same.

   Conclusively, libraries are valuable and sustainable to communities through their efforts in improving the quality of life within communities. Despite the fact that libraries are susceptible to cuts in their fund, especially after post-recession, there is still an appreciation for libraries as some states dedicate millions of dollars to their libraries. Furthermore, the research conducted in this paper imply that there is a lack of communication on how libraries are funded and run. Therefore, in order to provoke library support, encouraging constituents to utilize, stay informed and partake in their local libraries is step towards creating sustainability in communities as a whole.


Advocacy in Action. (2015, June 25). Common Public Library Funding Myths. Retrieved from

Berry, J. N. (2016). We are not a business. Library Journal, 141(16), 10-n/a. Retrieved from

Eberhart, G. M. (2005). Referenda roundup, 2004: Good news for many libraries.American Libraries, 36(1), 16-18,20-22,24-25. Retrieved from

End of story? (2004, May 01). The Economist, 371, 59. Retrieved from

Horton, V., & Pronevitz, G. (2015). Library consortia: Models for collaboration and sustainability. Chicago: ALA Editions, an imprint of the American Library Association.

Johnson, C. A., & Griffis, M. R. (2013). The effect of public library use on the social capital of rural communities. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science,46(3), 179-190. doi:10.1177/0961000612470278

Lemire, S. (2017). Supporting Our Troops: Library Services and Support for Veterans. Public Services Quarterly,13(3), 152-167. doi:10.1080/15228959.2017.1319317

Posigha, B. E., Godfrey, V. Z., & Seimode, F. D. (2015). The trend of academic libraries consortia in the north central and south east geo-political zones of nigeria. Library Review, 64(4), 305-320. doi:

Sharps, S. (2005). The Case for Library Automation. Library Media Connection, 24(3), 51–53. Retrieved from

Swarbrooke, D. B. (1999), Sustainable Tourism Management. Wallingford: CABI International.

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