What is the point of the public library?

I'm listening to a BBC Radio broadcast on the history and purpose of the public libraries of Britain. These are some of my thoughts:

So taxes where once levied with a dual purpose: one to pay for the establishment of a public library; and two, to encourage people to use what they have already paid for to better themselves through this communal opportunity for self-education.

Part of this history was that lost requirement of the individual to prove his worthiness to join the community of the library. Now, we just ask for some identification, but originally, there were many more hurdles to overcome before one could qualify for membership in a public library. Residents used to beg to be let in, but now it's the libraries that seem to be begging people to join: what happened?

Modern libraries seem to be in constant motion chasing relevance. "Stay relevant!" is the current mantra. But what is relevant? Is literacy relevant? Are job skills relevant? Are DVDs and streaming video relevant?

Libraries never used to compete with the local book, music and video stores. We bought classics and educational materials. We bought new books, but only after they had been on the bestseller list for a few weeks.

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