What is the mission of public libraries? Sounds like such a simple question, but sometimes the true mission of a public library is forgotten because they have become commonplace every community in the United States. Most people think that the public library's mission is all about offering free materials and services to patrons. The library is free, therefore everything they offer should be free, right? Well, not exactly.
First, the public library is not free. Someone is paying for all the associated costs of running the business as well as purchasing the materials or licensing for materials that are in demand by patrons. Whether it is community taxpayer dollars or state or federal taxpayer dollars, libraries cost money. Money well spent, I might add; but it is still money. Someone has to earn it and spend it to pay for it.
Many librarians take umbrage with libraries who are engaging users on the web and earning affiliate revenue in the process when patrons click through on links on their website. As am Amazon Affiliate, I can tell you the money earned is not a king's ransom. Far from it. Yet, librarians are mortified at the thought that the free public library might actually be engaging in commerce. I interpret this as a sign that even the lofty librarians sometimes fall under the spell of the free public library like the patrons they serve.
To answer my question, one of the main missions of the public library is about providing access. We do that by allowing patrons access to materials and equipment that they otherwise may not be able to use. Not everyone can afford the latest gadget, or even any gadget. People who are displaced and not "allowed" a library card in come communities are still able to come in, sit, read, and/or use a computer. They provide a cool refuge in the summer and a warm place to relax in the winter.
The mission of the public library goes above and beyond providing patrons with all that is free. We help those who are in need to find what they seek. Whether it is the next good read, a place to warm up when they lose their heating, or computer access to apply for a job; libraries are there to pick up the slack in the community. They enrich lives through generations.
I wouldn't begrudge them an alternate revenue stream or even a few. The service they provide is something that cannot be purchased at any price.