TL;DR - Just because you don't use the library doesn't mean no one needs them anymore. Not everyone's Real Life Issues are amenable to a self-service web portal, and that's not just because no one has built the right widgets yet.
> it will be a slow death by a thousand cuts
It will be a slow descent into budget fugue, followed by an extremely quick death when we pass an inflection point in "the number of people who remember getting awesome value out of their local/municipal library system."
I bet when a lot of people here first started hearing about library closures in their old neighborhood, or wherever they're living now, their initial reaction was one of total shock followed by "well I guess I can see how that could happen."
When people hear about library closures now, they could be skipping the shock entirely, passing smoothly through "aw that's too bad", and fading into "well there's Google."
> [the library] need[s] to become the center of civic engagement
We need a center of civic engagement with both equality and equity of access. Libraries are a decent foundation on which to build such a thing, but there's at least one common feature of libraries that makes them awful for this: people are supposed to be quiet in the library.
There should be almost nothing quiet about civic engagement, finding a job, learning new skills, research, etc. Less giant rooms with rows of people not saying anything; more smaller sound-proofed rooms with whiteboards and projectors. Like a giant executive briefing center, only with fewer executives and more regular folks with something to ask/teach each other.
Santa Monica (near where I live) recently re-opened its public library. A lot of shelf space was sacrificed for meeting rooms. They're basically white board equipped conference rooms with tables and chairs. You walk through there, and see all sorts of groups of people meeting in those rooms, talking animatedly. It's kind of fun to imagine what they're meeting about, I've seen evidence of startups, community groups, etc. based on what's on the board. The rooms are pretty sound-proofed, so you don't hear them as you're perusing the books. There's also quiet study rooms where you can do your business if you want to be absolutely quiet. A lot of space was devoted to a cafe area, which is nice for doing coffee-shop-style laptop work (except they won't kick you out).
Santa Monica is the position of being an economically well-off city (and thus able to afford such a lavish library) with a significant homeless/poor population, which is very well represented in the library. For areas in the midst of complete economic blight, I doubt there's as many niceties opening up--which is sad.
As is the point of the article, in the midst of all this Information Age online-this and online-that, there's a sad lack of civic-mindedness. How does the community as a whole uplift the people within it who are not doing as well? I doubt most of the higher-end property-tax payers in Santa Monica actually go to the library--and it is clearly servicing the people paying the least (or nothing) for it. Sadly, most of the rhetoric I see on the public policy level is, "I was in line at Albertson's and saw someone buying a steak with their food stamps!!! And a bottle of wine! How dare they? You should only be able to buy lima beans and tepid water with food stamps."
That is a good idea, though I favor chalk boards. But it would be great. In order to bring it about a lot of difficult management problems would have to be solved. For instance, people are going to be turning tricks in all those separated rooms pretty quickly.
My old university library had private rooms that you could use to get away from the crowds. They were sound proofed, but had a giant glass wall that faced towards the rest of the people. You couldn't turn tricks there unless every onlooker was in approval.