The Rapid City Public Libraries’ mission statement is: Anticipate Needs, Build Relationships and Communities, and Connect Community to a Global World.

The value of this statement in our information economy, addresses a recent Journal column about e-books, bookstores and public libraries. Booksellers and libraries have coexisted for more than 200 years in America. With the introduction of e-books, some people worry that libraries may be on the way out — or worse, that libraries are putting bookstores out of business. Here’s why that is not the case.

Publishing and reading are booming as Americans migrate to e-readers and the data indicates the more people read, electronic or print, there is a direct benefit to the economy. However, libraries are not about the format of materials, whether print or electronic. Otherwise, they would not have made it past television, the internet, videos, DVDs and now e-books, which are only increasing, not decreasing library use.

Governments provide library services because they are a public good. As such, these e-books and other electronic and digital means are made available by public libraries for the benefit of all citizens, regardless of economic status, enabling library users to connect to the global world, just as libraries have done for many years through print media.

The Constitution and the Bill of Rights include many key provisions related to information: the guarantees of freedom of speech, expression, press and assembly. Information or communication account for important concepts in 31 of the 85 essays in the Federalist Papers.

A civil society is important for democracy because it is the “free space” in which democratic attitudes are cultivated and democratic behavior is conditioned. 

Libraries supported by tax dollars are in the business of providing free access to published information that is otherwise sold in the marketplace. Government provides this free access because we the people and our leaders — from Benjamin Franklin to Dwight David Eisenhower — have long believed that equal access to information is essential to a strong democracy. A full democratic rule ensures that all adults have an opportunity to be informed in public discussions of issues that affect the conditions of their lives.

Libraries provide people the tools to find the information they need in the digital age. Although Google and other search engines have revolutionized the way we locate and use information, many of us are often frustrated by our inability to find the information we need on the web — especially when it comes to learning about our own community.

Today’s librarians guide patrons through the forest of digital content and are also building the tools we need to create, organize and access databases of  local information.

The Rapid City Public Libraries are providing a pivotal role in the development of the Black Hills Knowledge Network, an online resource that provides a comprehensive archive of information on public policy issues and the history of our region.

The fact is, libraries are successfully reinventing themselves, especially here in Rapid City, and the statistics tell the story. While walk-in traffic at the Rapid City Public Libraries continues to grow, the number of patrons who access the libraries online to read and research is growing by leaps and bounds.

Thus, while new technology and new business models may signal the end of the bricks and mortar bookstore, the usefulness of the libraries in our democracy continues to be proven every day.

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