In an earlier post, I discussed John Palfrey’s book In BiblioTECH: Why Libraries Matter More in the Age of Google. To be honest, I found that he seemed to focus more on library collections and how to digitize them than on how libraries themselves are changing in terms of the services they provide. Perhaps it’s because he wrote his book almost five years ago, but there are so many more exciting things happening in libraries than just digitizing collections. The Hyperlinked Environments module shows how flexible and adaptable libraries can be to stay relevant to users in the 21st century. Palfrey advises libraries not to become “just community centers” (2015, p. 80); he advocates for libraries sticking to what they do, just changing how they do it.
However, libraries such as DOKK1 in Aarhus, Denmark and Oodi in Helsinki, Finland, among others, are proving that libraries can exist as a user-centered, hyperlinked environment, where there is overlap between traditional services libraries provide (“books”) and what services have been traditionally offered by “community centers”. Laerkes (2016) described “the transformation of the public library from a passive collection based space to a more active space for experience and inspiration and a local meeting point.”
Depending on the needs of the community they serve, libraries are community centers. The new Calgary Central Library, as I shared in my previous post, offers a dance class open to the public. Helsinki Central Library Oodi describes itself on its website as a “living meeting place” (What Is Oodi?); there’s no mention of books in its description, though they are certainly still there. Users can study, try new technology, create music, art, check out sports equipment, organize a performance: really, the possibilities seem endless.
There is no reason to limit the services that the library provides. Indeed, I would argue that libraries should have no boundaries when it comes to meeting the needs of their communities. Palfrey addresses library collections and how to better meet the needs of the community in terms of access to materials, but libraries such as DOKK1 and Oodi are now focused less on collections and more on users by providing them opportunities to do things, rather than just find things.
In the library, there is the freedom to create, to learn, to explore, to try something new with support from librarians and with little or no cost to the user. And this is what makes a library a library and not “just a community center”.
Laerkes, J.G. (2016). The four spaces of the public library.
Palfrey, J. (2015). Bibliotech: Why libraries matter more than ever in the age of Google. New York, NY: Basic Books