A little while ago I asked: "what is a library[an]" In that entry, I gave you some idea of what I, and other folks, think a public library is, and what it should be. I also talked about what a librarian is, and what that critical roll should be as the library moves forward into the future.
Well, we're bumping into that future right now.
The folks over at Street Lab--the ones who brought us the Storefront Library in Boston's Chinatown, which I wrote about in one of my first blog entries--are now working on that next step. The Uni Project grows right out of what Street Lab learned with their Storefront Library. Uni fills gaps in library service by providing the physical needs of a public library in an even more portable, flexible, and accessible format than the Storefront model.
The Storefront Library brought a temporary library service into the Chinatown community by turning a vacant commercial space into public space.
The Uni brings temporary library service right out into the existing public space we inhabit and use now.
Places like Times Square in New York City,* Chicago's Millennium Park, and others like them, are redefining what public spaces can be, and Uni fits right into that model: extending and reshaping public space to be more useful, interactive and rich.
Bringing the public library to the people is not a new idea. Wikipedia cites an example of a "perambulating library" back to 1857, in England; early bookmobile, yo. The US Lighthouse Establishment (read: US Coastguard) began its Traveling Library program in 1876, with wooden boxes of books, delivered to lighthouses for the use of the keepers and their families, who had trouble getting from their remote locations to the library. Need a more personal sized portable library? Its not exactly public, but I guess it could be. Maybe you could borrow the whole thing with your library card.
WiFi hotspots are not enough. We need libraries--in all shapes, sizes and locations--to keep us connected intelligently. The Uni Project is underway right now. Check out their video to find out more and see how you can help.
* Times Square is one of the places the Uni is scheduled to premiere this fall.**
** UPDATE: Times Square is not on the Immediate list, but elsewhere in New York. Take a look at the comment below from Sam from the Uni Project. Thanks Sam!
It's Sam from the Uni—I love your post and also your earlier one going back to the Storefront Library. The image of the US Coast Guard traveling library (wooden box) is wonderful.
One small note: although we're keen to test the Uni in as many different environments as possible, we're not actually pursuing Times Square at this moment. I think early Uni locations will focus on more residential areas, although I like to think we could pull off Times Square down the line. We're talking with folks right now about locations, so suggestions and ideas are welcomed!