Tomorrow’s library: not just a book warehouse

Aaron Holmes

Guest Editorial

Tuesday, August 6 2013

Libraries need to provide access to tools, information and expertise we need, but don’t already have at home in order to stay relevant.

Libraries began as repositories for hand-copied manuscripts, and developed into the source for a community’s entertainment and education before there were even radio broadcasts. Lots has changed since then.

Between Google, Wikipedia, and the rest of the internet you can find out nearly anything with your phone or computer.

Whether to keep using the word ‘library’ is an open question, but here’s what communities need:

Community meeting, education, and presentation spaces. If you’re going to have a community space, encourage community groups to take advantage of meeting and presentation spaces, either ad-hoc or scheduled events.

Public meeting and collaboration spaces, places to screen and discuss film or videolectures and a place to quietly drink a cup of coffee with a good hardcover, newspaper, iPad, or friend.

Kids still need to learn to read, and for this, books still trump screen time. Storytime circles, singing songs, learning sign language and socializing with other kids are important features to include in a library.

Sometimes you need tools you don’t have at home. Including access to resources for making things, from pottery to woodshop to electronics design, to fixing appliances would make the library a valuable resource for people wanting to learn practical skills. Combine that with seminars on how to fix your bike, glaze pottery, play the violin, or paint with watercolours and you have a community supported learning institution with live experts.

You can’t get that sort of personalized instruction or community building online.

Combine this with librarians who know about less popular ways of finding information and you’ll have a valuable research resource that doesn’t waste its floorspace on books.

Smarts doesn’t come from just reading books anymore. Now it takes mastery of the tools for data search, analysis and presentation. Making those tools available to people who don’t normally have access to them extends what libraries are and makes them relevant again.

It’s not just about the books anymore.