“[T]he evolution of libraries and library service will include a pronounced shift from libraries as book warehouses to libraries as centers for discovery, learning, and creation via any number of platforms.”
– From Stephens, M. (2013). Collection Bashing & Trashing
The most common question I am asked when I tell someone I’m studying to become a librarian, is some variation of, “So, are you learning the Dewey Decimal System?” Though I realize they’re trying (unsuccessfully) to be funny, it does highlight the stereotypical and dated misconceptions of what libraries do. What my colleagues, friends, and family members don’t realize is just how much libraries have changed for the better to accommodate the needs of their communities.
Perhaps for young, middle-class professionals, the library doesn’t immediately hold a lot of appeal. That’s just were the books are, right? I can find any book that has ever been written and order it with a couple clicks from Amazon with free shipping. And I have Google for all the rest, right?
While that’s a pretty solid argument against the traditional use of libraries, it is very limited in its scope. Fortunately, libraries throughout the United States and the world are bringing in their users in innovate, engaging, and fun ways.
Libraries have morphed into spaces where folks can create and experiment, and the most innovative ideas have come directly from the library users themselves. I loved reading about The Mix in San Francisco, where the teen services coordinator reached out to teenagers in the community to help design the new space. The Mix has high tech tools for video production, music recording, as well as a “carpet garden” for a place to relax, read, or work on homework. The space was completely designed by the youth involved to meet their needs.
At the Rockwood branch of the Multnomah County Library, where I live, the staff set up a Makerspace to engage youth in the community. Rockwood is in an area of the county with a very diverse population, affected by poverty and gang activity. By presenting an empowering space for youth to create, the Makerspace has helped youth connect with library staff and their peers. Rockwood Makerspace has a 3-D Printer, laser woodcutter, sticker maker, and tools for designing video games.
“[T]he idea of connection is what is most important. We are here to help people find their place in the community, provide access to information and services, and help people connect through the stories they love.”
– From Ulin, David L. (2013). Not dead yet: Libraries still vital, Pew report finds
Like any “product,” libraries flourish best when they adapt to meet their users’ needs, rather than making assumptions about what services will work best. It is essential for institutions to be open and transparent about new initiatives, redesigns, or services to stay accountable to their users. Asking for feedback and suggestions every step of the way helps libraries establish and maintain trust from the public.
- Stephens, M. (2013). Collection Bashing & Trashing.
- Ulin, David L. (2013). Not dead yet: Libraries still vital, Pew report finds
- YouMedia, (2015). In San Francisco, Teens Design a Living Room for High-Tech Learning at the Public Library