Monday, January 20, 2014

What will become of libraries?

"So for now at least, the American people want their libraries. The question then is, what will be the role of the library in the digital tomorrow? Susan Hildreth, a former top librarian in Seattle and for the state of California who is now director of the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services, has thought about these issues and offers a sensible vision for what’s ahead. 'I see three big goals for libraries,' she writes. 'Provide engaging learning experiences, become community anchors, and provide access to content even as the devices for accessing that content change rapidly.'
As we’ve seen, libraries are already working hard on providing engaged learning, and have been doing so for decades. As to their role as community anchors, well, that goes back more than a century. Which leaves us with the matter of access to the materials of culture. In the popular mind the best known mission of the public library, of course, is lending books, to say nothing of videos and other material—all the wonderful stuff reductively known nowadays as “content.” And public libraries are well on the road to lending that content in digital form, which will surely be the main form in which it is consumed a decade or two from now. OverDrive, a leading distributor of eBooks for libraries, reported that in 2011 users checked out more than 35 million digital titles, while 17 million titles were put on hold."

"This old idea of the public library as co-working space now offers a modern answer – one among many – for how these aging institutions could become more relevant two millennia after the original Alexandria library burned to the ground. Would-be entrepreneurs everywhere are looking for business know-how and physical space to incubate their start-ups. Libraries meanwhile may be associated today with an outmoded product in paper books. But they also happen to have just about everything a 21st century innovator could need: Internet access, work space, reference materials, professional guidance.
Why not, Lea suggests, put these two ideas together? Arizona State is planning in the next few months to roll out a network of co-working business incubators inside public libraries, starting with a pilot in the downtown Civic Center Library in Scottsdale. The university is calling the plan, ambitiously, the Alexandria Network."

There is a lot of discussion about what the role of libraries will be now that the digital age has taken over.   Access to the Internet is of course a part of this, for those who need it.  Books will remain an important part of their role, I believe. But community interaction will play a larger role as well.  People need people.  And libraries are a community space where that can happen on a neutral basis.

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