The Public Library Today: Recent Data

Last Wednesday, the Pew Internet and American Life Project released some data about the public’s view and use of their public libraries.

The findings were overall very good.

It seems as if people know libraries are important and want them in their community (94% say that having a public library improves the quality of life in a community), yet were unsure what exact role libraries have in their day-to-day life.

Books still account for the market share of users (80% cited books and media as being an important service provided), but over 50% say that Americans do not need public libraries as much as they used to. Only 23% said that they were aware of “all or most” of the programs offered at their local library.

How important are

Courtesy of Pew Research Center

Libraries are still valuable to job seekers (47%), retirees & the unemployed (49%), those with a disability (40%), and those who lack home internet access (56%).

Still, these numbers barely reach 50%: about half of these populations do not find the library valuable or do not know.

public libraries and tech

Courtesy of Pew Research Center

What does all of this data tell us about public libraries today?

 1.)    People still know libraries are important

People still want libraries in their communities. They know that having a library is better than not having a library. It is a safe community space, where learning, discourse, and teaching are encouraged. It provides open access to information, and provides other services that are important to Americans. But…

 2.)    Americans can’t really articulate specifics as to why libraries are important

…outside of books and quiet, of course. Don’t get me wrong – these features are the lifeblood of libraries. But over 50% of those polled said that Americans do not need libraries as much as they used to and only 23% were aware of all or most of library programming. How can libraries become essential to the community? How do libraries get most people aware of their programming?

3.)    New marketing techniques

Libraries need to market themselves outside of the reference/books/children’s activities realm. Yes these are important aspects of what we do, but people already know that. Do they know that there will be free ESL classes? Do they know there will be a networking social with a local business entrepreneur? Do they know there will classes teaching advanced Adobe Photoshop? These aspects need to be highlighted more, so that more people can think of specific reasons why their library is integral to the community.

Let’s make sure that the American people find us essential in the years to come.

Holiday Break

Here’s hoping that all of our readers, followers, and contributors enjoy the holiday break and have an excellent new year!

The blog will be taking a brief break as well, so posting will be intermittent or — more likely —  non-existent. So, enjoy time with your family, eat some delicious food, and curl up with a good book for a while.

We’ll see everyone in the new year, ready to delve ever deeper into the world of libraries, archives, museums, and all that’s contained therein.

Digitizing Toys

We’ve all revisited fond childhood memories of favorite toys: the life-size Barbie with hair you could style, the GI Joe that came with a real functioning parachute (!), or that one RC Car that could do flips. These memories are certainly accompanied by that nostalgic longing, that sense of long-gone fun that could never be appreciated in today’s modern world. Could you even explain the fun you had to someone so removed from your childhood memories? Now, try explaining your favorite childhood toys to someone 250 years later…

Oh, the memories of staying up late to play with my… bee hive smoker?
(Photo from Richard Balzer Collection;

The Richard Balzer Collection — a self-declared Wunderkammern of visual entertainments — does just that. The collection hosts a plethora of toys, shadows, peep shows, phenakistascopes, zoetropes, and more, providing a rather interesting insight to the various modes of entertainment from a by-gone era.

But more than that, the collection website offers Flash animations of many of the moving entertainments, allowing modern day viewers to see just what audience members would have seen nearly 200 years ago.

Apparently, lions eating children was entertainment back then.
(Photo from Richard Balzer Collection blog;

The animation element of the Balzer Collection site illustrates an interesting element of these antiquated novelties: accessibility and interoperability. Usually, these terms are used with regard to more modern media such as cassettes, film, and computer files and the ability to understand or use them once they have fallen from popular use or become obsolete. However, an important element of properly understanding these visual entertainments is not only comprehending the remaining physical artifacts. To really understand what was experienced, these objects have to be seen in the context in which they were intended to be seen, which is to say: in motion. And while we may be able to conceive of these objects as moving entertainments, if we cannot experience them as they were intended, a key part of the experiential knowledge of the objects is lost. And even though we may not have the complex spinning apparatuses or the rear-lighted peep show cases that are required, the Balzer Collection has employed GIF technology to ensure a proper migration into a format that is useable in our current tech environment.

Be sure to check out the Richard Balzer Collection. They also post a blog for updates to their collection and their ever-increasing collection of animations. A tip-of-the-hat to Huffington Post for bringing it to my attention.


Jonas Salk, Polio Vaccine Inventor, Wrote Us a Letter

Written by Justine Rothbart


Jonas Salk

It’s never a dull day in the AAUW archives. I never know what treasure I am going to find in our fellowship files. Each fellow is unique. Each one has their own story. In Helen Claudia Henry’s 1955–56 International Fellowship file, I came across two letters written by Jonas Salk, the virologist who discovered the polio vaccine. As I held the letters in my hands, I could not believe that letters from a world-famous scientist are here in the AAUW archives.

As I dug deeper, the story of the letters began to take shape.

Click here to read the full story about this new discovery in the AAUW Archives.

Recovering a Labor Icon

Since February 2013, I have had the privilege to work as a graduate student assistant at the American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives at CUA. I have been tasked with researching a creating small websites of primary documents we call the American Catholic History Classroom. While the first part of the year was spent working on a site with the information on hand, this latter half (since about late August) has spent on my own original search for documents related to “Mother” Jones.

Who is Mother Jones, I am sure is the next question out of you mouth.

Mary Harris Jones was an influential labor leader in the early part of the 20th century. Born in Ireland, her family immigrated to Canada in the 1850s. In her 20s, Mary Harris would move to the United States, teaching for a short period in Michigan before moved to Chicago and then Memphis. She met and married George Jones in Memphis and the couple had four children, though she would lose her entire family in a yellow fever outbreak in the alte 1860s. Moving back to Chicago, Jones would become enamored with the burgeoning labor movement, later becoming involved in the first major labor organization in the U.S., the Knights of Labor. Jones made it her life’s work to reach out to working families and encourage labor organization, mainly through her role as an organizer with the United Mine Workers of America. Dubbed “Mother” Jones due to her age at the time of her involvement (she was 63 when she became involved with the UMWA in 1900), Jones criss-crossed the country for more than 20 years to rally support workers. Jones would die in 1930 at the age of 93 (though she claimed to be 100). Her memory was lost for over 30 years before she began to receive recognition again in the 1960s. A progressive magazine would be established in the 1970s and named in her honor, and numerous books were written about her. In 1992, Jones was enshrined in the U.S. Department of Labor’s Hall of Honor.

Due to her Catholic roots and the fact that a small collection of her items is stored at the CUA Archive, our office felt it desirable to include her story in the classroom project. I created 18 sections that included speeches and correspondence from and to her, as well as newspaper articles and other primary sources, in addition to photographs. Each section includes text giving background to the sources listed. There is also a timeline of events in Jones’ life, a list of other sources about her, and a section on why this topic is important to history.

The site is currently being reviewed by the Archive’s Education Archivist, Dr. Maria Mazzenga. Once she gives the final word, it will be made available publicly through the main Archive’s website. I will post when that occurs, and I encourage those interest to check out this site and the other sites we have in the American Catholic History Classroom ( !

“Oh my gosh, this is so cool!”

Written by Justine Rothbart


“Oh my gosh, this is so cool!” This phrase goes through my head dozens of times a day while working in the archives. As archivists, we think almost everything in an archival collection is the most interesting thing in the world. Well, of course, we’re archivists. We get lost in our own world reading the stories, examining historic photos, and listening to oral histories. We think, “I have to tell everyone about this! They will all think it is so interesting!” Will they? Let’s think for a minute. Let’s think about those people who are not archivists. Let’s think about those who do not dedicate their life to preserving and providing access to archival material. Will they feel the same way you do? Will they care as much as you do?

Click here to continue reading the rest of the post on the Society of American Archivists Issues and Advocacy Roundtable blog.