The Future of Public Libraries

Do you ever visit your local public library? A lot of American’s DON’T. Mainly because they buy their own books at bookstores, borrow books, have internet access at home, or just don’t care much about reading altogether. That’s at least more than 52% of Americans.

                                                                             

If you do, what do you actually do at the library? Chances are, you’re on the computer on the internet. It appears that around 85% of library patrons come to use the computers, according to the American Library Association.

In today’s society, libraries that were once mini-utopias for knowledge through books and paper, are becoming seriously outdated with the spread of the Internet. Before you know it, the traditional library will become a memory of the past. Librarians are worried not only about their jobs, but the importance of how this could effect local literacy, and the impact that libraries have to the community. That’s why now it’s time for libraries to adapt.

When you think of a traditional library, you probably think of tall bookcases, dusty moldy smelly books (sometimes), the quietness that hangs in the air, the plain look, the boringness and all the other things most people dislike. Of course, traditional libraries are kinda rare these days. Though for the most part, many American libraries are just plain outdated according to a Zogby poll.

Common dislikes of today’s libraries include : No WiFi, too many common books (that can be found practically anywhere) and lack of special hard-to-find books, computers too old and crummy, slow internet, unhelpful staff, vandalized books, lack of large meeting places, lack of location convenience, among other things.

So what’s the library of tomorrow suppose to be like? Well here are the main factors that will keep tomorrow’s libraries in check:

  • More computers – I volunteered at the library for a summer, and I noticed a lot of patrons just head to the computers. The Internet is full of a ton of info., and having access by computers can really help. So why not just get some good durable laptops? Paying the premium for quality and durability will help offset future costs associated with faulty cruddy parts and awful performance. Laptops are also a more flexible and smoother machine to use, than a full desktop with a bunch of wires sitting in the same spot all day. And setting beanbag or mats to lay out for laptop use would be keen.
  • Full free WiFi access – Another key thing to getting more patrons is giving free WiFi. That draws people for sure. Also have it around the outdoor areas of the library as well.
  • Efficient working website – Every public library must have a website in this age. But sometimes public library websites are just plain crappy. Hard to navigate, not much details, horrible (or sometime no) online catalog, and a difficult (or no way) of checking your library card account status. Make a website that’s engaging enough. Make a website with clear info. about library branches, easier to read and sift through catalog, easy to securely sign-in and check on your account status, have a subscribable calendar to connect through, list all events, show a brief bio and contact info. of the staff, and a bunch of other needed info. in a nice readable format.
  • Big events! – Author signings, used & old book fairs, mega summer reading contests, performances, poetry readings, weekly whodunits, spelling contest, storytime, puppet shows, etc. Have events that make going to the library something interesting.
  • Host local events – Besides a community center, or a local park, libraries are the next big thing. Libraries are usually air-conditioned, and in their own way, sort of place to hold stuff like mini art galleries, mini exhibits, run-of-the-mill contests, and events like that. A library is a great place to host an event that needs AC, some provided tools, focal center of the area, etc.
  • Make more and bigger meeting rooms – Many libraries have a nice multipurpose room(s) to host a variety of things, like local club meetings, kids play area, storage, etc. Though if libraries were to become more social places, you’ll definitely see a lot of need for a place for local community groups to meet. Like a book reading club, knitting club, dance club, card club, whatever.  Some libraries can offer a pretty much bare bones room for free. Some might have nice extras like whiteboards, projectors, TV screens, nice chairs, and all that for an hourly fee, where that money can be used to help fund the library for more stuff. And if your library is really nice, the access to a meeting room with modern conveniences is free.
  • Being built in a smart location – Building a library in the middle of nowhere will not get patrons, as if they don’t notice. But plopping the library in a more remote area to reach from the neighborhood isn’t friendly. Build them next to public schools and public parks. Especially parks. Building them close together gets more people closer to than they might not have if every place were separated. Make it sidewalk accessible, have bike racks, and ample parking.
  • "Night in the Library" events – I happen to know that HMNS has one of those "Night in the Museum" things where people can pay to spend a night in the museum pretty much roaming about. It’s suppose to be really cool and interesting at night. The same program can happen at a library. Though there’s nothing much awe-inspiring to see at the library, it can be fun to stay after hours and explore.
  • Specialized collections – I really hate it when a library has multiple books of the same thing (ex : Harry Potter) and they don’t have a complete collection of another series. And you find out that they’re scattered throughout the library system. If libraries could build complete collections and have them at the ready for anyone to use, instead of me or the librarian hunting it down, that would be great.
  • Cafe or at least vending machines – It would neat to have a cafe nearby or at least a vending machine to munch some snacks.
  • Ad-supported – Not everybody likes ads, but with a more top-notch library than previous generations, they do need a bigger source of income than before. So you expect some poster-frame sized ads plastered on walls. Most likely of local things. Ads aren’t that bad anyways. It’s like a more fancier bulletin board.
  • Nice large bulletin board – If they could bring a nice large bulletin board near the entrance, that would be awesome. People can post up missing pet posters, things they want to sell, job offers, event notices, etc. If the library could make a virtual one on their website, that would be double awesome.
  • Green building – Being green not only saves energy, but saves the library a lot in maintenance fees. Having a green building spews out less wasteful things, and saves you a whole lot of money for that. Pretty important.
  • Interesting architecture – Don’t make all the libraries in a branch look like the same old, same old. Maybe one can be ultra moderno, another with a crazy random look, one with an English theme, another with an aquatic theme, just do something different. That gets people’s attention and pulls people from all over to see.

All in all, I’m thinking the library of tomorrow not just as a place to get information, but also a place for the community to socialize. Hopefully libraries can adapt to a more flexible standing like this in the near future.

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