Libraries: Centers of Living, Learning, and Beyond

Dr. Corinthia Price |

Entrepreneurship Education blog

As librarians, we know the value of our community services. But in an increasingly digital world, we see the role of libraries as community and cultural centers at times undervalued, and occasionally under fire.  In a recent article, Forbes contributing writer, Panos Mourdoukoutas, wrote a disastrous, misinformed controversial op-ed, “Should Amazon Replace Local Libraries to Save Taxpayers Money”.   He stated companies like Amazon and Starbucks have effectively made libraries obsolete. Replacing libraries with Amazon bookstores would save taxpayers money, Mourdoukoutas claims.  

In the piece, he says Amazon and Starbucks “provide residents with a place to read, surf the web, meet their friends, and enjoy a cup of coffee. This is why some people have started using their loyalty card at Starbucks more than they use their library card.” Mourdoukoutas also claims that private companies have made the digital offerings of public libraries obsolete.  He claims “Amazon Go” basically combines a library with a Starbucks.” Amazon Go is a convenience store that allows customers to buy items without paying at a register.

Amid widespread online backlash a Forbes spokesperson said in a statement. “Libraries play an important role in our society”. This article was outside of this contributor’s specific area of expertise.  On Monday, July 23, 2018 the article was removed from the site. 

Libraries are funded by the public in order to serve the public.  More than just books and computers, libraries are important community hubs that serve as centers of learning, professional development, healthcare, and community resources. Public libraries have become active producers of podcast content, through both workshops for patrons and library-hosted programs.  Patrons can reserve podcast equipment to be used onsite in a quiet room. The kit includes microphones and a laptop loaded with audio software for multi-track recording and editing.  According to a 2015 Pew survey, almost two-thirds of adult Americans say that closing their local library would have a major impact on their community.  The following is just a sample of the many innovative ways public libraries add value to the community.

1.  Health Care Comes to Public Libraries

In a growing number of libraries, patrons can check out a book and get a check-up in one visit. Libraries in Tucson, Ariz., have become the first in the nation to provide registered nurses in six branches.  The Pima County Public Library program began in January 2012 with a single nurse who divided her time among six of the system’s 27 branches. By midyear, the program expanded to five nurses who share one full-time employee slot.  The nurses help make the library a welcoming and safe place for everyone and improve the physical and mental health of patrons. Nurses provide much-needed services, such as: nursing assessments, nutrition and health education, and blood pressure screenings. 

2.  Public Libraries add Social Workers

A growing trend in the library field is the position of social worker.  Libraries around the country are hiring social workers who can help staff and the public.   San Francisco Public Library (SFPL) was the first library in the nation to appoint a full-time social worker. In the article, Library Expands Services to Accommodate Homeless, Mentally Ill, Michelle Jeske became Denver’s city librarian in 2015.  She stated no single incident led the library to add social workers to its 300-member staff at the Central branch. Instead, it was a gradual realization that perhaps, as Denver’s homeless population continued to increase, the library had to expand its services for struggling visitors, as well as start educating staff through regular workshops and classes about dealing with the homeless and mentally ill. 

At the Public Library Association Conference in Philadelphia on March 20 tough questions were asked during the session “A Social Worker Walks into a Library”.  Social workers and librarians explored different models and approaches for administering social services, and how social work programs at public libraries began and evolved. Approximately, thirty library systems across the country have at least one social worker on staff.

3.  A Library Recipe for Cooking Up Literacy

Opening in 2014, the Free Library of Philadelphia's Culinary Literacy Center offered the country's first commercial-grade kitchen classroom in a library. The Culinary Literacy Center is revolutionizing the way Philadelphians think about food, nutrition, and literacy. It is more than just a cooking school. Teachers can bring students to our hands-on lab, where we teach math via measuring, reading via recipes, and science via seeing what pops out at the end of the cooking process. Chefs of all ages can experiment with new foods, new tools, and new ideas.

4.  Seed and Grow Program

Seed lending programs are a growing trend across the country with hundreds of libraries joining in. Some of the programs ask the gardeners to save seeds from the plants they grow and return them to the library so the program will be self-perpetuating year after year.

5.  Shared Spaces in Libraries

As communities need change, libraries are transforming to meet these changing needs. For a growing number of libraries, that means supporting the workforce by providing co-working spaces, internet access, business incubators, and networking opportunities.  Co-working spaces and business incubators in libraries serve freelancers, entrepreneurs, remote workers, and more.   The following libraries offer co-working spaces:

The goal is to provide accessible business training, coworking space, and maker equipment to the community. Since we are located in the library, we want to be the first physical point of contact for area residents to learn about area business startup resources.

The Shelby White and Leon Levy Information Commons is a natural extension offers opportunities for freelancers, students, job seekers and lifelong learners to access innovative library services. With a focus on technology, media and culture, information commons reflect the needs and the diverse spirit of the community.

The Richland Library Coworking Center, located on the third level of the Main library, offers a free, fully equipped, self-service workspace. Work in our quiet, spacious corner office with a beautiful view of downtown Columbia.

6.  Public Libraries and Retail Come Together

Steps from the main library entrance a library store, art gallery, hair salon, florist, public radio station, and coffee shop shares space with The Salt Lake City Public Library.  At the Brooklyn Public Library Info Commons an amateur recording studio is available to library cardholders working on audio or video projects.

It’s obvious Mr. Mourdoukoutas hasn’t been to a public library in a very long time, nor does he seem to have an understanding of how they actually serve a community.   The University of Pennsylvania study found, “public libraries are dynamic, socially responsive institutions, a nexus of diversity, and a lifeline for the most vulnerable among us.”   I encourage Mr. Mourdoukoutas to go visit his local library to learn how libraries are important partners in sustainability, a place where people come to learn, where libraries serve as catalysts for addressing social problems, and provide important business resources, especially for small business. 


Dr. Corinthia Price is the CEO and Founder of Workforce Career Readiness™. She is an international entrepreneurship advisor and workforce development analyst who specializes in 21st century workplace skills and competencies.