Our Views: Libraries set for 2014

In a state too often plagued by illiteracy and ignorance, new spending on libraries in south Louisiana is a welcome development.

In Baton Rouge, a splendid new Main Library is set to open this month behind the old library on Goodwood Boulevard. As the new Main Library begins operations, officials will focus on a $19 million overhaul of the River Center Branch Library downtown.

Meanwhile, in New Orleans, the city’s capital improvements budget includes funding for major repairs to the Main Library on Loyola Avenue.

In an Internet age, is continued investment in public libraries really worth it? We believe so. Much reference material remains unavailable online, meaning that traditional library collections still have an important role.

And even with the rise of e-books and online resources, a sizeable number of young people still prefer traditional books, according to the recent survey.

In a poor state such as Louisiana, many residents still lack Internet access. That reality also argues for the relevance of traditional print materials.

But libraries have become critical sources of online content, too. Their computer banks offer online service to many residents who lack such service at home. Libraries also offer specialized online content that would be too expensive for many patrons to access on a subscription basis.

Through its Beyond the Books campaign, the East Baton Rouge Parish Library is promoting its wide range of digital content. Through any library branch, patrons can take free online courses in Web design, accounting, marketing, grant writing, digital photography, publishing, law school entrance exam preparation, language learning and much more.

The New Orleans Public Library offers similar content, as well as a fabulous digital archive of historical photos. Readers can check it out at www.neworleanspubliclibrary.org/~nopl/exhibits/exhibitsetc.htm.

The role of libraries as community meeting places also remains important. We remember predictions made only a few years ago that the Internet would dampen the human desire for personal engagement. And yet, in this cyber era, coffee shops seem to sprout on every corner, filled with customers — many of them young people — who want not only a warm beverage, but the pleasures of society.

That’s why libraries continue to attract patrons, too. People visit libraries not only for reading, but to meet other readers.

Louisiana needs libraries more than ever. We’re glad that as a new year begins, library service appears to be holding its own — and even growing.