My obsessions with libraries were in the details. The closeness of the bookshelves, the smell of each individual book, the total silence that seem to reveberate with knowledge undiscovered. A library was a source of potential, of education, of learning, of imagination. On days that I simply needed to get away, it was easy to walk or drive to a library and sit on a comfy coach with a book. I can’t bear the thought of them not existing some day.
But what if they disappeared? What exactly are we losing and why should we care?
As a teacher, I often hear about how many schools are shifting to digital books, or even downsizing their school’s library. I work in a low-income school so the idea of digital may seem nice, but many students can not access online resources. To them, the internet only exists in schools, to them the internet is filled with endless cat videos, iFunny, Reddit and other distractions. Many do not know how to make sense of the information overload or hone in their focus and use the internet for their benefit. Many schools in my area are neglecting to reinvision the library so that it may work for students of our generation.
Not long ago, I came across the Chelmsford Public Library’s objective which is based off of the American Library Association. The following is considered the “Minimum Standards of Public Library Systems, 1965"
To facilitate informal self-education of all people in the community.
To meet the informational needs of all by providing materials or referral.
To enrich and further develop the subject areas in which individuals are undertaking formal education.
To encourage the use of library materials and services for recreation.
To support the educational, civic, and cultural activities of groups and organizations.
Even though this is from 1965, the standards almost seem timeless. But can’t the internet accomplish all of this and more? An internet-connected device can trump the need of a physical location to obtain information. This has led many people to see a library as non-essential to their lives.
But what if…
… the library was more than just a library? What if it went beyond than just “housing” books?
Some libraries have already made some of these steps. Some libraries, like the one I often visited in Richardson, TX, has dedicated whole floors to computers and allows patrons access fast, reliable internet connection. They make sure to have plenty of space for work and personal devices. They also made sure to have community events listed in high-traffic areas.
Like a recent article in the Chicago Tribune mentioned, libraries are evolving. Arlington Memorial Heights Library’s completed renovations included open spaces, a renovated teen space area called “The Hub” and more.
Others like the library in McAllen, Texas, took the idea of space to a whole new level, converting an old Walrmart into a readers’ paradise for all ages:
“When kids go to the mall instead of the library, it’s not that the mall won, it’s that the library lost.”
Seth Godin mentioned how libraries are not necessarily needed but librarians are more than ever. In a world of endless, accessible information, learning how to filter is key.
But what if a library had more than just skilled modern librarians (which is still very much needed)? What if what a community needed was space to meet and collaborate with one another? A blend of resources, experts, and a space to meet and/or create?
The rise of co-working spaces such as Grove Dallas, Weld, or Workhaus Lounge have highlighted that demand. They provide space, resources and community events support the individuals and budding businesses.
Last November, I visited the Dallas Museum of Art. It had been a while since I last visited and the whole first floor had changed dramatically. Sections were dedicated for interactive art, and free community classes were provided for both young and old. The DMA gave me an experience and a positive one at that. My husband, who is not into art, found himself enjoying the interactive features of the exhibition and looking at what others had made.
Libraries have always been about the experience but people’s tastes and needs are changing. We still need people and we still need to know how to acquire reliable, useful information. Many still crave a sense of community and low cost opportunities to learn with others.
The future of the library is…
… an integral part of the community. It will serve as point of reference, of curated, accurate sources whether it be digital or print. It will house an adequate staff of librarians or curators that can educate the average person about how to extract resources that will work for them, whether it be personal finance, informal education, or resources related to their career.
The future library would house ample working spaces for writers, artists, and musicians. These working spaces can also become an avenue to connect with other members of the community by offering free or minimal fee classes to the public.
At the library’s center, it will be for the people by the people as we connect with one another to better ourselves as individuals and as communities.
The future library will be flexible to the needs of communities and will bring a more human face to endless information we are bombarded with. Our technology driven world has allowed us to remain connected with people worldwide and provide access to unlimited amount of resources. It fails at one thing, however: bringing basic human interactions and bringing a physical community closer together.