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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

In Our View: More than Books

Innovative programs, new building boost momentum for local libraries

The Columbian
Published: April 5, 2010, 12:00am

We could be mistaken, but we’re pretty sure Ben Franklin never envisioned this when he helped establish public libraries in what is now the United States.

Modern libraries have adeptly changed with the times, providing high-tech services alongside the more traditional bindings and pages.

Among the latest trends is a Self-Help Job Lab available through the Vancouver Community Library. And while Franklin was a visionary who, with a group of friends, created a co-op for the borrowing of books in 1731, it is unlikely he pictured people applying for jobs through a small screen that connects users with the world.

We’ll cut Franklin some slack for his lack of foresight. Who could have imagined that nearly 280 years later, the library would still be providing services to facilitate the education and the enlightenment of the populace?

Vancouver’s Self-Help Job Lab allows users to search job listings, send electronic résumés, and attach cover letters, with volunteers on hand to help. Most important, it is part of a downstairs 10-computer lab that allows job seekers more time online, unencumbered by the one-hour limit for terminals available to the general public.

Considering a recent study that showed one-third of Americans use their local library for computer access, this would seem to be a case of supply meeting demand.

Vancouver’s Self-Help Job Lab is the result of a $48,420 grant awarded through the Washington State Library and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Institute of Museum and Library Services. And it’s an example of the library’s ability to tailor services for the needs of the public. In an era when more people than we care to imagine are searching for jobs, it’s not surprising that the library is there to aid the quest.

It’s all part of what has been a time of growth for the Vancouver Community Library. A new outlet recently opened in east Vancouver, and a new central library continues to be constructed at the corners of Evergreen and C Street downtown, developing into a glowing testament to the vibrancy of the city.

Few things say “community” and “knowledge” quite as brilliantly as a public library, and Vancouver’s library continues to employ a creative approach to developing those traits.

Take, for instance, an ongoing program that has youngsters reading to dogs. The idea is to facilitate confidence in children who are trying to improve their reading skills or their ability to speak in public.

We’re pretty sure Franklin didn’t foresee that, either, but reports say that “Go Dog Go” is a favorite among the canine audience.

According to a recent article by Columbian reporter Laura McVicker, 9-year-old reader Ben Tate received mixed reviews from a black lab named Padma upon reading a “Garfield” book. “I’m looking here, and she’s looking there,” Ben said, rolling his eyes.

Well, duh. It was a book about a cat. What did you expect from a black lab?

While library services have branched out in order to keep pace with a changing culture, the primary function remains the same: To provide free and easy access to the books of the world, to the history of human exploration, expression and education.

As Franklin himself once said, “If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write something worth reading or do things worth the writing.”

Thousands upon thousands of people have written things worth reading, and they are within the public’s reach at the library. We’re pretty sure that is exactly what Franklin had in mind.

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