“Welcome, you’ve got mail!” Even today, my brain can still hear this iconic greeting from America On-Line (AOL). For millennials like me, while the internet was available at home, it still wasn’t as ubiquitous as it is today. This was a time when internet service arrived on compact discs and getting online involved a chorus of beeps, boops, buzzes and having to log off when your parents needed to use the phone.
For students of the 1990s to mid 2000s, completing research and homework was still an overwhelmingly analog process, learning how to use the public library was taught and reinforced in almost every grade level. Public libraries were essential to preparing an entire generation for school, college and the workforce.
When the age of the smartphone began, aided by the arrival of the first Apple iPhone, nearly the entirety of human knowledge was available in everyone’s pocket. Because more people were able to log on to the internet 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the internet evolved more in five years than in the previous 20. Google, Wikipedia, Amazon, online research databases, ebooks. Why did anyone need to go to the library anymore, when you can get anything you would get there on your phone?
In all honesty, before recently, I couldn’t remember the last time I stepped foot into a public library. But I have always loved public libraries. My mother worked for the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District (LVCCLD) for nearly 10 years, and I would spend weekends, school breaks and after-school at the public library. My love for history and political theory were fostered at the library, but I, too, turned my back on the library as a destination — because I could find all the information I needed or wanted in my pocket.
I have started visiting all of the LVCCLD urban branches in my role as a library trustee to learn more about what libraries are doing today in Clark County, and I was blown away. If you haven’t been to the library lately, you haven’t been to the library. I toured the Best Buy Teen Tech Center at Clark County Library on East Flamingo Road, where teens have access to technology even I was jealous of. They are able to design and 3-D print all sorts of things, record and edit podcasts and short films, design costumes, write and illustrate their own graphic novels, hone their photography and editing skills and so much more — and all they need is a library card to have access to these resources. And libraries all over town have similar centers for kids and teens to have fun learning and creating utilizing STEM skills.
The libraries of the LVCCLD also do so much more beyond books, internet access, art galleries, concerts and book readings. Several branches are now affiliate sites for the One-Stop Career Center to help people find jobs and workforce training. During the pandemic, LVCCLD expanded the boundaries of its free public WiFi and opened doors three hours early (at 7:00 a.m.) for students in order to support online schooling. The libraries have become safe places for kids after school, too, including tutoring services and healthy snacks through a partnership with Three Square. They are even supporting parents with young children by providing reading bundles with books and activities to support intellectual development.
I could go on for days about the services the libraries provide, and that is just Clark County. There are tons of services and activities in all of Nevada’s library districts. For more information, I would refer you to your local branch (in the Las Vegas valley, every resident lives within three miles of a library).
One more resource at the library worth highlighting is the staff. I have a deep appreciation for all public sector employees, but library employees are in a category all their own. In an era where public libraries have people coming to them in physical or mental distress, and where kids go because there may not be a parent at home, library staff serve as advocates, educators, protectors and allies. I have never met a more compassionate group of dedicated public servants than I have in the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District.
The public libraries of the 21st Century are amazing resources, but you don’t even need to step foot into a physical building to take advantage of all the things the library has to offer. Audiobooks, ebooks and movies can all be accessed and enjoyed online or streamed to your devices, and this is only the beginning. I am excited for the next decade not only in the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District, but all around our great state. Like an old friend that we haven’t seen in awhile, the libraries have changed a lot, but they will always be there to help us grow, learn or even show us a good night out.
Nathaniel Waugh is a member of the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District Board of Trustees and a program supervisor at Hope for Prisoners, where he focuses on workforce development for dislocated workers and recently released offenders. He received his Master of Arts in Urban Leadership from UNLV.