The classic image of the library with its rows and rows of books is rapidly changing and evolving. While the principle of libraries might seem archaic in the digital age, libraries still play an important role in our communities. As a matter of fact, according to a recent study, around ninety percent of those surveyed said that closing their local library would negatively impact their community. Yet libraries are still facing an identity crisis as a building full of books becomes less relevant as more and more people rely on the internet to find information. Let’s examine how libraries have begun to embrace technology.
Technology for the masses
Libraries regularly offer desktop computers for public use, and they often allow people access to graphic design software and other applications they may not otherwise be able to use due to the price. E book readers are often available, and you might find a Skype station at the library or kiosks for video calls.
A few are even providing access to 3D printers or on-demand bookbinding machines. Library layouts are changing to accommodate a connected public, putting shelving around the perimeter of the common areas so that adaptable furniture can be configured as required. They’re also trying to accommodate users by adding the number of power outlets and internet connections available to support mobile device and laptop computer usage. And many simply rely on the library for internet access.
This has pushed many libraries away from their original purpose and transformed them into workspaces and multimedia centers. And this seems to be what is keeping many of these libraries alive since fewer people go simply to consult and borrow physical books. As a matter of fact, a recent study by the Pew Center seemed to corroborate this fact. The research, which aimed at monitoring how technology was used in libraries by patrons found that most of them did not see libraries as book repositories but more as communal spaces which gave them access to technology and a digital literacy source for various demographics. Libraries should keep evolving in that direction and will soon become fully committed to multimedia and digitization in the near future.
Old job, new media
Libraries have long provided free access to books, magazines, and newspapers. One shift in libraries is the move from printed materials to free digital magazine subscriptions. Another is allowing people to check out e-books, whether it is saved to the visitor’s device or a library provided device. In addition to the traditional role of letting people check out books, more people rely on libraries for entertainment, so it is now possible to find audio-books and movies available for checkout. But print books are not going away. While eBooks are growing in popularity, print book reading remains strong.
Libraries have been trying to replace books and paper archives with resources that require less space. This has led libraries of the past to convert paper records to microfilm. Today, it is spurring the adoption of the microfilm digital scanner; microfilm records can be converted to a digital format and indexed with metadata before being made publicly available. Digital libraries are now improving the interaction between users and digital content and are trying to democratize access to information. Initiatives like the UNESCO’s ‘information for all’ program are already trying to connect people around the world to a global information network, which gives them access to more than 25,000 titles. The program launched in 2000 and is working in conjunction with local governments in an attempt to create a more equal society and education system by facilitating access to information.
Traditional & digital literacy
Libraries are now providing one-on-one assistance to those who lack digital literacy, and it is common to find digital literacy classes in the computer lab teaching people the basics of using email or office productivity software. This is in addition to the traditional literacy classes, with programs to help children learn to read or improve adult literacy.
The digital commons
Libraries have long been valued public spaces. Libraries remain meeting places for book clubs, study groups, and clubs. A new variation on this theme has been the rise of co-working spaces in libraries themselves. For example, one version of this business model is to let entrepreneurs use the co-working space in exchange for providing at least one hour of community programming to the public. Other libraries have learning commons available for all students. In this area, public libraries are simply adopting a trend that’s already been affecting school design for years.
Libraries are integrating more technology into their offerings. This is having an impact on everything from library layouts to furniture to the courses they offer. The very nature of library is fast-changing to meet new demands.