Feb 29, 2024 - News

Detroit's libraries help close digital divide and serve as community centers

Illustration of a finger pushing a line of books, stacked side by side like dominoes.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Public libraries in Detroit and across the country have morphed into all-purpose community centers amid soaring demand for social services.

Why it matters: Libraries are enjoying a renaissance in usage while also battling book bans and bearing the brunt of a host of societal issues — from caring for unhoused people and migrants to distributing COVID-19 tests and Narcan for drug overdoses.

  • The result is frazzled staff and budgets spread thin from competing needs.

Zoom in: The Detroit Public Library (DPL) offers free tax preparation, cooking classes, legal aid workshops and a take-home laptop checkout program to help close the city's digital divide.

What they're saying: "For a lot of neighborhoods, the public library is basically their first access for city services," DPL spokesperson Katie Dowgiewicz tells Axios.

  • "The great thing about the public library is that anyone can come and there's no questions asked," Dowgiewicz says. "All of our services are free."

Reality check: For all their public benefits, libraries in some places are facing angry and unhinged customers — some of whom blame librarians for the content of books they'd like banned, Axios' Jennifer A. Kingson reports.

Follow the money: Libraries are grappling with strained budgets from things like the high cost of e-books and providing free outdoor Wi-Fi so people without broadband can have off-hours access.

Between the lines: Detroit's libraries have 300 laptops and 500 internet hotspots available for checkout, but there is a waitlist, Dowgiewicz says.

  • Patrons can reserve a laptop or hotspot at any location or by calling 313-481-1400.

Go deeper: Libraries are on the front lines of America's problems


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