Libraries Need to Evolve

May 1, 2013 — Leave a comment

I utilize my public library more now now than I have in the past eight years. This is especially surprising because I live over 8,700 miles away from it. I can’t recall ever checking a book out of the library while a high school or undergraduate student, but since moving to Sri Lanka I’ve checked out over a dozen books from my library’s online program. My downloads have ranged from Bill Clinton’s Back to Work to Haruki Murakami‘s Norwegian Wood, and I’ve read all of them on my kindle.

While at Fordham I was at the library almost daily, but I used it as a place to study and work – not as a place to look up information (isn’t that what the internet is for?). This seemed to be a pretty common practice, as my generation is more inclined to utilize google than the dewey decimal system.

The role of libraries is changing rapidly, just last week this shift was highlighted by the launch of the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA).

The DPLA was launched by Harvard’s Berkaman Center, with funding coming from a variety of foundations. It is an open source archive that has partnered with the Smithsonian, the National Archives, New York Public Library, the University of Virginia, Harvard, Digital Library of Georgia, Minnesota Digital Library, Mountain West Digital Library and others. These collections are open to the world to be searched by place or time. Even in its infancy, its an intriguing collection. I expect it will become even more relevant and useful as the collection partners with more archives, libraries, and museums. 

One of the more intriguing things is that the DPLA has an API, so that developers can build off of their archives. I’m excited to see what new products come out of this partnership.

The function of libraries has changed rapidly over the past decade, and many local libraries are struggling to justify their cost to the communities. With resources like the DPLA being launched, local libraries will have even less relevance. Libraries need to revamp themselves, and they can learn a lot from coworking spaces.

Its estimated that by 2020 about 40% of America’s workforce will be freelancers. Coworking spaces allow freelancers and young companies to have flexible office space, that can scale cheaply. Libraries can be turned from stagnant spaces that foster an environment of silent study to engaging environments where creative thinkers can thrive. The content libraries can curate is constrained by their physical space, so they should embrace the digital era and help patrons to hack through the endless information available on the web. Access to the web, and data, should be the entire point of libraries. They should be spaces where community members can teach classes, in the style of Skillshare.

Our world is changing, and the old models need to be challenged and improved.

Sean

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