The reinvention of public libraries

I didn’t quite manage to type up all my notes before the baby, Ella, arrived six weeks ago, but I will get round to it at some point. I’m just getting back online workwise, so apologies if posts are sporadic for the next few months. I have plenty of reading time but I’ve not mastered typing with a baby in one arm yet!

Today I was directed to an article from the Chicago Tribune on how libraries are attracting new audiences. With funding cuts and falling user numbers, we all know that public libraries need to reinvent themselves if they are to remain relevant. This isn’t a new issue – my A-level General Studies exam included an essay question on how public libraries could attract more young people, and that was back in 1996 (I think I advocated more computer terminals, so forward thinking!).

It’s certainly true that libraries need to embrace digital resources, although I’m not sure many libraries will be undergoing such a total overhaul as the Denver library that offers kids game rooms, has scrapped overdue fines and – perhaps the hardest for traditional librarians to swallow – has also scrapped the Dewey Decimal System.

Former ALA head Michael Gorman is quoted as saying, “The argument that all these young people would turn up to play video games and think, ‘Oh by the way, I must borrow that book by Dostoyevsky’ — it seems ludicrous to me.”

But I think Gorman is missing the point. The fact remains that if libraries don’t reposition themselves at the centre of the community, they won’t survive. Perhaps we need to change our way of thinking away from a book-centric view of libraries and towards libraries as a meeting place for the community, whether they want to check out Dostoyevsky or play Guitar Hero.

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