In the USA, public libraries have traditionally been important community centers. With the advent of the World Wide Web and with fewer bookstores around, the public library’s role is adapting. The public library is no longer just a place to borrow books, but a place to get DVDs/CDS, use a computer, access the Internet, disseminate and obtain information, meet friends, and even enjoy a cup of coffee.

Pablo Neruda Bibliothek
Friedrichshain Berlin

Many public libraries have also become places to showcase art exhibitions, have guest lecturers, hold book readings, and even improve language skills. For example, at Portland’s central library, there’s a section, which provides tutorial assistance for people learning English.  

Germany also has an impressive public library system; but, without being too bold, it’s no match for the American system. In Germany, libraries are open for fewer hours, usually lack Wi-Fi and computers, and are generally less user friendly.

A couple of days ago, I was working at my neighborhood library (Pablo Neruda Bibliothek) in Berlin. It’s an impressive building with an extensive collection. Yet, for all of its modernity, it lacked sufficient seating and table space, offered neither Wi-Fi nor computers, and had bad acoustics. Of course, this is just one library, but I’ve noticed the same phenomena at other libraries throughout Germany and Europe. Europeans like to flaunt their superior social services (with good reason), but when it comes to public libraries, America’s system is better.