Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Reinventing the Public Library

Most library space has long been devoted to books. But, of course, ever more of our reading more conveniently comes from the internet: downloaded books, audios, and videos, Googled articles, online dictionary lookups, etc.. So there are better uses of library space than labyrinths of bookshelves. Most of a library's book holdings should be purchased as e-books, freeing up most of a library's space. Ebook readers could be lent or even given to patrons.

How to best use the resulting increase in available library space? Libraries should become ever more of a community centers. Already, of course, libraries have speakers, children's puppeteers, serves as a quiet hangout for kids and seniors, etc., but much more can occur, for example,

  • hourly, citizen-run town hall meetings on a topic du jour, perhaps with coffee, pastries, sandwiches, and salads sold.
  • a meeting place. Most people feel relaxed and positive in a library. That makes it a good place for negotiations and other meetings, for example, contract negotiations between union and management.
  • Starting when libraries normally close, say 9 pm, the library could become a cafe/non-alcoholic nightclub with library-consistent entertainment that has wide appeal: folk guitarist, poetry reading, etc.

Probably most important, librarians should expand their role from just telling patrons where to find information to gathering that information, at least for non-students.

For example, librarians could work from home, with access to the library's expanded resources including proprietary databases too expensive for individuals to own. The librarian could respond to emailed and phoned requests, for example, a patron who has just been diagnosed with psoriasis and isn't a good researcher. The librarian could cut and paste best articles, pictures, videos, etc into an email sent to the patron. It's a wiser use of taxpayer dollars to fund librarians as information retrievers than to fund the acquisition and storage of a library-size book collection.


Anonymous said...

Your points about saving space, practicality, etc. make sense. However I get a totally different experience when I am reading a physical book. Looking at a page is more appealing that looking at glowing pixels.

Anonymous said...

Great ideas here, Marty. Would librarians really agree to do this? Would they be ok with this drastic change? I was always under the impression that most librarians have very easy jobs and that they are not that busy most of the time. If their job is suddenly changed to look more like a data miner's, might they switch careers? Books and shelf space should definitely be re-tasked to some other purpose though, and I like the community center direction, especially as a place for kids and teens to do their homework, collaborate on assignments, and have computer/video/audio access. Also, the library is a great place for the elderly (65+) to meet and play games, maybe also support groups for certain afflictions, although if I were a parent, seeing meth addicts anonymous would make me uncomfortable. I also like the town hall/policy meeting center. However, beyond general reference and recreational reading, I'm not sure what other uses the library would have for the 20-60 crowd. Maybe it will go obsolete in the future?

Marty Nemko said...

Anonymous, if only because they feared losing their jobs, they'd adapt to spending more time as information retrievers than as resource dispensers. More important, many librarians enter the field because they love information and love helping patrons. I think many librarians would welcome the opportunity to be information retrievers.


blogger templates | Make Money Online