The Challenges and Triumphs of the Local Library

The Challenges and Triumphs of the Local Library

Whether you’re about to graduate with your Master of Management in Library and Information Sciences and want a realistic view of the future that awaits you or have always had a fascination with the ambiance and wealth of information libraries can provide, you may wonder how these institutions have adapted to the rapid changes in technology to remain viable in an increasingly electronic culture. Read on to learn more about some of the challenges libraries have faced in recent years, as well as the steps many have taken to adapt and even thrive in an ever-advancing culture.

A library

What are some of the biggest challenges today’s libraries face?

Although many may assume that libraries have suffered since the advent of e-books and other electronic learning materials (much like the undoing of video rental companies after the advent of subscription streaming services), public libraries have fully adapted to changes in consumer demands.

However, funding can still be a major challenge for modern libraries, especially after the Great Recession. Many cities and counties were forced to slash their budgets significantly to cover rising pension costs or to stay afloat during years of extremely lean budgets. As a result, libraries have learned to do more with less, enlisting staff members able to tackle a wide variety of tasks, from procuring eResources and books to grant writing.

A library science degree from USC Marshall can help prepare you to manage this ongoing challenge. At the University of Southern California, this degree program is offered through its School of Business, offering graduates an education in research, management, marketing, project management, and more. This holistic program can be a ticket to success as a research or community outreach librarian.

Technological advances
While libraries haven’t been impacted nearly as much by advances in technology as video rental stores or large retailers they’ve still had to adapt to the modern times. Equipping libraries with computers, scanners, printers, specialized software, eResources and Wi-Fi for public use can be costly. Acquiring new technology can mean reducing the budget in other areas.

On the other hand, many of these technological advances can actually improve the way libraries offer their services, providing efficiency to processes that can help free up employee hours to be spent on more substantive work. For example, developing an online reservation or renewal system may significantly reduce the volume of phone calls received, allowing librarians to focus on things such as marketing the library’s public programs online, tracking down a rare book, or creating a grant application with a community partner.

What have libraries done to rise to these challenges?

Expanding community involvement
In 2015, Pew Research Center revealed that the most frequent users of libraries include people of Hispanic descent and women age 50 and older. Additionally, a Pew Research survey found that, in 2016, 53% of Americans 16 years of age or older have had some kind of interaction with a public library in the past year (this includes in person, via website, or via mobile application). 48% of adults had visited a library or bookmobile over the previous 12-month period. With this in mind, libraries help curate content and create programming to meet these users’ needs while also considering ways to bring in members of demographic groups that may not commonly use the library.

For example, many individuals now rely on libraries to provide them with internet access if they can’t afford home internet (or don’t have a computer). This internet access can often include visits to legal self-help websites that provide forms to litigants so they can avoid the cost of an attorney while pursuing a legal claim on their own. Developing partnerships with pro bono legal agencies in the area can help librarians connect those in need with the resources to help them. Some libraries will even host events like “talk to a lawyer day,” in which attorneys donate their time to meet with individuals who need help with legal issues, show them how to perform basic legal research, or answer questions about court processes. This is but one example of how libraries help today’s community members.

This type of community outreach can make the library a key part of residents’ lives, and targeting as many demographic groups as possible in programming selection can ensure it remains a diverse and vibrant community gathering place.

Investing in technology
Even with limited or shrinking budgets, many libraries have found efficiency and cost savings by upgrading their technological equipment. From purchasing all-in-one copiers for public use and charging a small per-page fee, to investing in the software and development needed to offer online reservation and renewal services, libraries have done well at adopting new technology while continuing to do more with limited funding. For instance, many libraries have begun to offer online training seminars to patrons using platforms like Often, customers can enjoy free access to online training resources through their local library.

Fortunately, most libraries are similar enough in management structure and lending policies that much of the available software can be adapted to just about any library in the country. Cutting your costs on software can free up funding for hardware purchases that aren’t as easily shared among libraries.

Preserving historical documents
Libraries may sometimes be seen as primarily book lending services, but most librarians take an active role in curating and preserving local historical documents as well. This can be invaluable to genealogists and those who are interested in tracking down the origin of anything from a long-lost street name to a weathered cemetery headstone.

This historical preservation role is one of the reasons that community involvement is so important to the vitality of libraries. Many libraries are able to obtain priceless historical documents or artifacts for free or at a low cost simply by maintaining good relationships with local residents. And while being bequeathed historical documents or other items in a patron’s will can be a great way to expand their collection, the ability of librarians to record the stories behind these documents by discussing them with community members can add an additional layer of relevance.

Even in a rapidly changing world, one thing that has endured about libraries is their ability to impart knowledge to all patrons — from toddlers to centenarians. Whether you’re dealing with original incorporation documents for your city or managing a portfolio of podcasts, your library science degree from USC-Marshall can give you the knowledge and confidence needed to ensure you’re always meeting the needs of the public.