Fort Worth looking beyond books as it adds libraries

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Fort Worth is adding three new libraries, but there’s a hold on books.

Physical books, that is.

The proposed budget for the 2020 fiscal year cuts the library’s budget for print books by $300,000, a reflection of how libraries are evolving in the digital age.

“Advancements in technology impact libraries in many of the same ways they affect the retail market place,” said Theresa Davis, the communications manager at the Fort Worth Public Library. “We must adapt to the growing demands of our customers. E-books and audiobooks continue to grow in popularity and we try to find the best ways to deliver them to our customers.”

That said, print books continue to be more popular than e-books or audiobooks, according to a study done by the Pew Research Center, which concluded that people are 37% more likely to read a print book.

“We have an obligation to continue to provide reading material in a variety of formats,” Davis said. “Our focus is on encouraging reading for fun, enjoyment and self-discovery. So if you want to read a graphic novel, we’ve got it. Magazines, we’ve got those too. Novels, cookbooks, historical documents, we’ve got them. And we’ve got all of those digitally or printed.”

As the city’s literary hub, the Fort Worth Library remains committed to advancing reading throughout all generations. Digitizing libraries doesn’t just mean animated graphic novels or books that read to you; it opens up various sectors of opportunity for employment.

“Libraries also provide resources for entrepreneurs and small businesses that might otherwise be unaffordable,” said Megan Cusick, the manager of state advocacy for the American Library Association. “Libraries today are not just about what we have for people, but what we do for and with people.”

The city is positioning its libraries to be community hubs, according to the proposed budget.

“Libraries offer resources, displays, talks and programming that showcase local and global artists across genres,” Cusick said. “They connect people with the resources to pursue their own passions.”

Libraries also serve as a way for citizens to learn about and engage with their local communities.

“Growing up in Chicago, going to the public library was a highlight in my week,” said Kate Edwards, a senior strategic communication major. “I loved using the computers there and finding different books to read. I thought it was so cool how I had unlimited access to so many stories and cool activities.”

The budget plans to decrease funding for print books, but Davis said the Fort Worth Library isn’t worried.

“The city has done an excellent job of supporting our materials budget for years,” Davis said. “Our professional staff of librarians who manage the collection are confident we have the funds we need to meet the demand for materials next year.”

Despite living in an era ruled by technology, the future for libraries in this social media age is bright, both nationally and in Fort Worth.

“What is most important to get younger generations interested in reading is having access to reading materials, no matter what the format,” Cusick said. “Social media allows libraries to engage with their communities in new and exciting ways, such as live-streamed storytimes and other events.”

For the Fort Worth Library, looking toward the future doesn’t mean negating the past.

“We are exploring new ways to utilize social media to expand the library experience into the digital world,” said Davis. “It’s a wonderful way to make connections with people and share stories.”