Libraries, Centers of Innovation

6For many people, public libraries conjure up images of dusty shelves filled with moldy-smelling books and elderly librarians issuing stern reprimands for anyone who whispers too loudly. But the face of public libraries is changing, due in large part to technology and digital reading, with the goal of reimagining them as still-relevant sources of public learning and interest.

But what does the library of the present—let alone, the library of the future—have to look like in order to reach readers’ interests and needs?

One library, San Antonio, Texas’s BiblioTech library, underwent a massive revamping of their entire library to establish a $2.4 million wholly-digital library in one of the lowest socioeconomic neighborhoods in the city. The initiative was unlike anything that a library had attempted anywhere else in the country, which is precisely why city and library system leaders wanted to move in that direction. With the help of 3M Library Systems, the library boasts dozens of computer lab stations—a bonus, given that 75% of the citizens in that vicinity lack internet access—and over 10,000 titles on e-readers.

As a representative of BiblioTech Library said, “A library’s purpose is to provide information and entertainment.” But libraries don’t have to go to such an extreme lengths as a multi-million dollar digital relaunch in order to keep up with the times. One way that libraries can start small in terms of purposeful innovation is to ensure that they offer ebooks, digital magazines and newspapers, and video lending to their patrons, while operating a user-friendly system for check-outs and maintaining an up-to-date website filled with information that pertains to patrons on more than just books.

But one of the most innovative things that libraries can do is to reinvent themselves as more than just a place to borrow books or the occasional movie. Libraries have the ability to offer ebooks, streaming music and videos, audiobooks, and children’s enhanced ebooks, but also have the space to invite patrons in with computer training, literacy resources, targeted instruction in MOOCs (massive open online classes) through educational providers, and more.

One example of a completely re-envisioned library for the 21st century is the Taylor Family Digital Library in Canada. Rather than simply providing the latest in technology, this library also maintains extensive archives and rare collections, an art gallery, and a host of other tools to the meet research and entertainment needs of its patrons.

Whatever libraries discover to be feasible within their space allotments, their limited budgets, and the know-how of their staff, one fact remains: libraries want to continue to be places that meet the entertainment and educational needs of local citizens, and meeting their digital needs is vital to that goal.