When construction on the current Plainfield Library began, the official Library District population was 14,123, with five schools in Plainfield School District 202. Today, the Library serves 75,337, with 30 schools in Plainfield School District 202. That same 27,000 square foot Library is serving more than five times as many people. When the Library opened, it offered two word processing computers, typewriters for public use and collections included cassette and VHS tapes. Modern email did not exist. Today, not only are there dozens of public computers used for more than 23,000 hours of public computing sessions annually, the Library also provides WiFi and power for people to bring their own devices. Formats in the collection include DVD, Blu-ray, MP3, eBooks and eAudiobooks, streaming music and video, eReaders, Rokus, and more. The collection is over 209,000 items, which is only possible because it includes over 60,000 virtual items. While population grew 391% since the current facility opened to the public, check outs increased 454% but other library services are even more in demand.
People are using public libraries differently than they did 25 years ago. Librarians are often asked, “Why do we need libraries when we have the Internet?” The Internet cannot provide the personalized help and hands-on instruction of the 21st century library. In 1990, 2,500 reference questions were answered by Plainfield’s librarians. In 2015, it was more than 56,000, over 25 times as many answers. Today’s questions are more complex because the easy answers are readily available. Librarians help when you can’t find what you need on the first page of results from Google. Complex questions, help with devices and teaching new technology skills comprise answers to today’s questions at the Library.
Classes and programs are a huge part of 21st century public library service. 1993 was the first year the Library kept program attendance statistics – with 2,214 attending programs that were only for children. In 2015, over 50,000 attended a Library program, spanning all ages. That’s 22 times more people attending programs in 2015.
25 times more questions answered and 22 times more people attending programs show the shift to 21st century library services. Those services focus on continuous learning, content creation, and making connections to each other and the community. Demand for services exceeds the physical capacity of the building. With a smartphones more powerful than a super computer of 25 years ago, people today need help keeping up with the fast-paced changes in technology. But they also need a place to connect and collaborate, to make things and share things. A 21st century public library is a community center for the way we live today.