People, Places, and Objects

As libraries anticipate and explore new possibilities for the future, there are three areas that should be focused on for a successful transition; people, places, and objects. Libraries have always desired to reach out to their users, but in the past this involved library buildings that had to be visited in person which were filled with row after row of books and little space left for anything other than reading. With advances in technology libraries have the opportunity to meet user needs in interesting and varied ways.


Technology has and will continue to transform people’s lives. Libraries have a role to play in this transformation. Transitional times, like today, can be very chaotic and frightening. Libraries must support and work with users to recognize how changes will impact their lives. They can do this by helping people explore their dreams in a safe environment (Stephens, 2017) and by supporting the discovery of what is possible. Championing patron hopes and needs can initiate their own innovative process.

“Libraries remain the gatekeepers to rich tapestries of information and knowledge. As the volume of web resources increases, libraries are charged with finding new ways to organize and disseminate research to make it easier to discover, digest, and track.” ~ Horizon Report > 2017 Library Edition


Traditionally libraries have expected users to come to them. However, now that information is literally in the palm of one’s hand, this expectation must change. First, as users rely less on library spaces to access information, they are looking for better places to be productive and collaborate (Horizon Report, 2017). Reconfigured, inclusive spaces where users can experiment, learn, and grow should be a top priority for libraries.

“We are really shifting and think of the library less as a place to warehouse books, and more of a place where you can come and interact with information in a new way and actually participate in a new experience.” ~ Stacie Ledden, communications director with Anythink Libraries (Hood, 2014)

Second, libraries should be facilitating access to information anywhere and anytime. “Americans today are increasingly connected to the world of digital information while ‘on the go’ via smartphones and other mobile devices” (Pew, 2017). Changing needs through technological advancement should be viewed as a positive thing. It enables libraries to do what they’ve always wanted to do which is to reach and serve the needs of as many people as possible. It is just the method that has changed. Libraries should look for quick, intuitive ways users can have 24/7 access to learning opportunities.


Objects are the tools libraries can use to connect and meet the needs of their users. This can be done in a variety of ways. For example, in the article Mobile Learning Environments, by David Gagnon (2010), he illustrates how mobile devices can be used as interactive educational tools describing a location-based local history game for students to experience a historical event. “The goal of this design was to give students an active, experiential, embodied role in the events of history instead of just hearing about them.” This immersive educational experience would not be possible without a mobile device.

Another example is the use of beacon devices by some libraries. Beacon devices send location-triggered information to users who have downloaded an app and have Bluetooth technology enabled. Experts from beacon technology companies explain that libraries could use the devices to help “remind people of [the libraries’] importance in the community and showcase the wide range of services and resources they offer” (Sarmah, 2015).

Finally, in an attempt to expand and diversify their traditional role, many libraries are making use of less advanced objects to provide for users’ needs. Dubbed ‘The Library of Things” by Sacramento Public Library (Garrison, 2015), these are sewing machines, musical instruments, kitchen appliances, and tools such as hammers and drills that are made available for check out from the library. The idea is to provide objects that people may have need of but for various reasons would not consider purchasing. Libraries should be evaluating how objects can be utilized to transform user experiences.

“People use libraries in order to transform their lives, which is another type of innovation—becoming a better version of yourself. Whether in public or academic libraries, the learning that occurs is transformational, and that has little to do with specific technology. It happens with books as well as computers, in conversations and through relationships.” ~ Jeff Jacobs, Chief Information Officer, OCLC


Gagnon, D. (September 22, 2010) Mobile Learning Environments. Retrieved from

Garrison, E. (February 1, 2015). Borrowing a sewing machine? Sacramento Public Library to start loaning more than books. Retrieved from

Hood, G. (September 15, 2015). 5 ways Colorado libraries are going beyond books. Retrieved from

Jacobs, J. (2015). Innovate anything. Next Space OCLC Newsletter. Retrieved from

Pew Research Center (January 12, 2017) Mobile Fact Sheet. Retrieved from

NMC Horizon Report > 2017 Library Edition (2017). Retrieved from

Sarmah, S. (January 7, 2015) The internet of things plan to make libraries and museums awesomer. Retrieved from

Stephens, M. (March 22, 2017). Chaos & caring. Retried from

7 thoughts on “People, Places, and Objects

  1. That last quote is so powerful and I totally agree. I have been thinking a lot about the power of experience – of talking with someone and learning from them…or listening to someone tell their story. I think this is something libraries do well and should look to do more.

  2. @anjanette Libraries are no longer Gatekeepers of information but Gateways. Great post. I am so excited to be entering this profession when we are moving away from traditional resources to an ever changing environment in which we can provide our communities with access to all digital media and teach them new literacy skills.

    • Thanks Carolyne. I agree. These are exciting times. I’ve been working in the library field for over 10 years. When I think back over that time, I remember all the awful procedures and work-arounds we used to have to do. But when I think of the future of libraries, I get excited about how much better it is when helping patrons.

  3. I enjoyed reading your post. I always enjoy learning new concept and ideas. Your post provided outstanding information. For instance, I like the example you provided about the beacon devices. That is a great concept for libraries to consider. Also, I agree with Professor Stephens on the quote you provided. It echoes the strength and power of libraries.

  4. @anjanette, I think the areas of focus you’ve selected are right on but I’d also add a note about continuity amidst transition. You quote Michael’s Chaos and Caring, “Transitional times, like today, can be very chaotic and frightening. Libraries must support and work with users to recognize how changes will impact their lives.” I completely agree and think that when we get into discussions about the future of libraries and incorporating emerging technologies we actively avoid addressing issues of continuity because the idea is to shake things up, see what’s not working, try and try and try until we devise some new and brilliant innovation. But it seems to me that when we discuss new possibilities, we often do so without enough context or in terms that denigrate existing or old technologies. Maybe it’s warranted but my fear is that we have so many users who are set in their ways and their conception of what a library is or should be. That rapid push toward the future can be alienating for older users or those less familiar/resistant to newer technologies. Obviously, we must plan with current and future generations in mind but I wonder if it’s not prudent to also plan for those who approach technology with reticence or at a different pace.

    • @katygo @anjanette Thank you Katy for reminding me about “balance’, cause you’re right, libraries cannot forget about traditional customers or they will lose them! However, libraries can’t keep doing what they have always done because communities expect more. I like your suggestion about planning for “…those who approach technology with reticence or at a different pace”. Maybe this could be approached through digital literacy workshops at the library to help customers that are nervous to use technology. I work at a very traditional library, (seriously, we don’t even have a fax machine let alone a maker space) so when I read about emerging technology or new trends I become excited about the possible services and technologies my library could offer to the community.

    • Hi @katygo,
      I agree that there are many people who don’t want things they are comfortable with to change and that libraries should not forget about these people who might still need that traditional library experience. However, I guess in my mind I have a hard time imagining that embracing new user needs cannot also coexist with traditional services, especially while we are all still in this transitional period. Maybe I haven’t had the same experiences as you, and I’m sure that some libraries will handle this better than others. But as I mentioned in my post, I really believe libraries have a role to play in the “transition.” Technology is transforming our lives whether we want it to or not. I feel that most libraries will recognize the need to help people make the transition easier and not just solely focus on new technology related services while leaving some people behind.

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