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Happy birthday, public library!

If you measure the relative value of an institution by the amount of foot traffic through the doors, the Park Rapids Area Library is heels and toes above the rest, a priceless gem.

As library volunteer Frank Moody told the Hubbard County Board of Commissioners Wednesday, "We've given 100 years of faithful service to the community."

Well said. And a happy birthday to you!

The library's history is included in a story in today's paper and it's well worth the read. The library's cheerful, helpful staff and the platoon of volunteers that keep it running perform an invaluable role enriching our region.

But this library, like all libraries throughout the nation, faces monumental hurdles in its next century.

There's a misperception that all a library needs nowadays is row upon row of computers, since everything is now found on the Internet.

As libraries spend scarce resources to digitize their collections, we mustn't neglect our traditional archives and paper anthologies, all valuable resources.

Funding will always be a challenge. Libraries must join cooperatives, often without adequate funds, to survive. They are asked to assume more expansive roles, mostly unfunded, in the communities they serve.

There's a reluctance to fund new facilities and to adequately pay the librarians who serve our needs.

As librarians and their patrons age, we must ensure survival of both groups. Are we adequately training librarians? Have whiz kids who can find anything online lost the value of holding a book in their hands?

Certainly we have to acknowledge that we are in the midst of an electronic revolution of epic proportions. Libraries have embraced it.

But have we lost sight of the invaluable information services libraries perform and the perspective librarians bring to those services? And we can't forget, hunched over our computers, that libraries are meaningful places to both children and adults.

Communities play an important role in determining what we want from our libraries. Do we want our library to be the hub of our intellectual growth, our premiere information center?

If so, we need to strike a balance between the technological future and the historical past. Librarians are uniquely situated to preserve our past for future generations, to emphasize literacy and learning and to promote intellectual freedom.

And as our library celebrates its centennial, perhaps the community it serves should think of the perfect gift - a successful capital drive that would ensure it will remain a valuable part of all of us, our past, our present and our future.