April 13, 1998

Opinion

Guest Editorial

Connect to the world at your library

from the American Library Association

   This year's National Library Week, April 19-25, celebrates the many ways libraries connect their communities to the world through books and print materials, and increasingly, through online connections. It's a small world -- and getting smaller at the library. Libraries have always connected us with faraway people and places through books and print resources. But today librarians have a new tool - one that can connect students, small businesses and researchers almost instantaneously to information resources from around the world - the internet.
  
   Children in the poorest and most remote areas can "chat" with children in other countries, learn about earthquakes or visit great libraries and museums online at their school and public libraries thanks to Internet connections. In the process, they learn valuable skills that will help them succeed in an increasingly diverse and globally competitive world. The same is true for adults.
  
   Less than 50 percent of American homes own a computer, yet according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, more than 60 percent of new jobs by the year 2000 will require computing and information networking skills. Only 22 percent of workers have those skills today. For those who are without computers, libraries provide a valuable opportunity to learn about important new technology. Today, libraries give our communities global reach on a scale never before possible. But they also provide something more important - the local touch in the form of librarians who know and understand our needs and are expert at locating, organizing and evaluating information. Librarians make the Web a safer, more user-friendly place for both children and adults.
  
   A good example is the Kids CONnect online questions and answer service provided by the American Association of School Librarians, a division of the American Library Association. Staffed by hundreds of volunteer school library media specialists with support from Microsoft Corporation, the free service provides not only answers but guidance in how to find the answers to questions like "What is the life span of a Queen Bee?" or "When does a baby start to smile?
  
   The American Library Association (www.ala.org) and many local libraries provide Web pages with recommended sites, special tips for parents, training classes and other services to help children and adults navigate the Internet.
  
   And what has become of books? Interestingly, the American Library Association says that many libraries report book circulation is higher than ever in the digital age. The tools continue to change but the library's mission of providing free and open access to information remains the same. Today, more than ever, our public, school and university libraries connect us to a world without borders - the only passport you need is a library card. National Library Week is a time to celebrate the constantly evolving American library and to thank libraries for their efforts to ensure that all people have the information they need, whether in a computer or a book.