By Mark Wolf
Don't bother Greg Lucas with the tired trope that the internet means people don't need libraries anymore.
"Well, that's (an equine epithet)," the gregarious California State Librarian declared during an NCSL Capitol Forum session.
"The internet has changed everything and it's going to change things even more dramatically. It's made libraries and librarians even more valuable," said Lucas, a longtime journalist who spent nearly 20 years as Sacramento bureau chief and Capitol reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle. (He is pictured here just before taking the Ice Bucket Challenge on the steps of the state library.)
He busted the myth that "books, the kind with spines and paper are on their way out," noting that more than 2.7 billion books were published last year (industry estimates are that 674 million printed books were sold in 2016).
"Libraries are now hubs for creativity," he said. "More and more of them now have maker spaces with a sewing machine, soldering iron, a bag of Legos. There is a mini biotech lab up the street in La Jolla. They changed the DNA of a jellyfish to red, white and blue for the Fourth of July. Sacramento's central branch has an Espresso Book Machine (that binds, print and trims quality paperback books in minutes)."
Lucas works for a system that has more libraries (about 1,100) than any other state.
"It's an incredible return on investment. Diversity is our biggest strength," he said, noting that California is the first state without a white majority. "At the Wilshire branch of the Los Angeles library, the largest group of patrons are Mongolians. They have the largest group of Mongolians outside of Mongolia."
Lucas is an unabashed cheerleader for libraries everywhere.
"The most cost-effective way to use a taxpayer dollar is to teach someone to read," he said. "There is no other government expenditure that can pay as much of a dividend. There is no downside to libraries or librarians. I'm often frustrated at how slow state government operates. Libraries are fast, nimble, connected to the communities they serve.
"They are the happiest and most helpful face government can present to a community."
Mark Wolf is editor of the NCSL Blog.