Monday, April 2, 2012

what's next at the library

Knowledge media is ubiquitous, complex, and growing at a pace that outstrips the most hardened and voracious philomath. Yet libraries continue to be our gateways to information, news, and reading material, in what is referred to by many as the most democratic institution ever conceived.

Image: School of Athens, Raffaello Sanzo, at the Apostolic Palace, Vatican City.

But with so much information available online, and the first computer savvy generation now filling in the lower tiers of the economy here in the States, what else can libraries do to remain relevant, while also continuing to provide services they have traditionally provided for their patrons?

I've put together a small sampling of the interesting things going on in libraries, just to get the ball rolling. The limit of what libraries can provide in the future, is really only limited by our collective imagination, but we need to want to go there, and we need to be the ones to keep that ball rolling. There are too many naysayers who would have us all believe that libraries are no longer relevant, if only because they haven't been to the library in 30 years*, and they have no idea what librarians are up to.

How to videos... at the library.
Need to know the best way to find scholarly articles for your term paper? Don't quite remember how to format a bibliography? Curious WHY doing your research at the library is BETTER than doing it on your computer at home? Talk to the folks at Coastal Carolina University's Kimbel Library, or just take a look at their in-house produced videos. really. clickey-click and take a look. fantastic stuff.

That's right. They are generating the content at the library to help their students use the library more effectively, and do better in school. you know you can right-click to open linkage in a new tab, and keep this window fresh and intellectually stimulating, right?

Fab Lab
So, you think you might like to make something at the library? Video? Podcast? Or perhaps a 3-dimensional printer would be more helpful? That, and much more is available at the Fayetteville Free Library Fab Lab in Fayetteville, New York.

Known by other names such as hackerspaces or tech shops, fab labs give folks the tools to create physical content at their library. Fayetteville Executive Director, Sue Considine, sees the library's stated mission to provide free and open access to ideas and information, in simple, but powerful terms: "...our philosophy is that libraries exist to provide access to opportunities for people to come together to learn, discuss, discover, test, create."

You've invented the next million dollar widget. Now go to the library and build it!

Fab Lab open house on April 14, 2012. Go get 'em Sue.

Guitars in the library
Patrick Sweeney, Branch Manager of the East Palo Alto Library, in Cali, had a dream: provide guitar lessons for anyone who wants to learn. Interested, but maybe you don't have a guitar? No problem, the library will lend you one. Volunteers teach the lessons, which happen pretty much every Saturday.

The guitars hang on the wall, labeled and cataloged, and each has a RFID tag. You can take one for 8 weeks, renew online, bring it back when you're done. They've got like, 6 of them!

Gando Library
We know libraries build community, and communities build libraries, but it isn't always as hands on as in Gando. Gando Village, in Burkina Faso is the home of architect Diébédo Francis Kéré, who now practices in Berlin. Local labor, local materials, and community assistance make for a library that will serve the village needs, provide a way to improve lives and will be maintainable due to the skills the villagers learned building their own library.

What can you do with a clay pot?

iPads for Preschoolers
What can a 2-year-old learn with an iPad? How to draw, colors, alphabet... you name it. In Houston, Texas that's just what they're doing letting toddlers fool with iPads.

Sandy Farmer, the youth services manager at the Houston Public Library, says this: "An iPad is interactive. You touch it, you turn it and it does things. Kids understand this very well. There are tons of apps out there for young children — alphabet, colors, maps... It's an opportunity for kids to sit down and learn in a unique way."

What's Next?

As I said in an earlier post, public libraries are ours. And what they will become is up to us. As library patrons, as librarians, and even for folks like me, who in our other lives, actually design public library buildings.

What else can we do? Good question. And there are lots of smart folks working on that. The Pew Research Center, with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, started a 3 year, $1.4 million research project at the end of last year, as part of Pew's Internet & American Life Project.

Jill Nishi, deputy director of U.S. Libraries and Special Initiatives, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation says, “As technologies advance, people in our communities increasingly rely on digital information to find opportunities to improve their lives. We must make sure public libraries, which are critical community technology hubs, keep pace with that change and give patrons access to the resources they need.” And I'm right there with you.

In the meantime what can we do in our own libraries? Today. Right now.

What new ideas are coming to fruition at your library? What dreams do you have for what is possible at the library?

Please post your ideas below.

* These are the people that are standing up in town meetings all across America, and voting against libraries, and library funding! These folks obviously don't understand that you can't learn everything there is to know with a Google search and a couple of clicks through Wikipedia!


  1. Will you tell us what you, as the library designer, design (italics) to make new libraries more attractive to the uninitiated? Oh, and word of the day? Philomath. Sweet.

  2. I wish I could give you a pile of examples of yoga studios, fab labs and media incubators that I've designed in the many libraries I've done, but the fact is: not many of my clients have been asking for these types of spaces.

    Libraries are like museums in some ways; they need to act as a backdrop for a wide variety of programs, functions and gatherings. Making libraries flexible is key.

    I would looove to do a fab lab!


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