I have a vision of libraries of the future that centers around the physical space being used as a community space for culture and learning. If this is to happen, new ways of learning and thinking must be employed at the library. The library is traditionally a place where people come to spend time alone doing research, and being silent. In order to have a vibrant communal space at the library there must also be areas where people can make noise, talk, laugh, and feel comfortable. Although this is happening at some libraries, this is a process that has taken many years to actualize. I would wager that the majority of libraries (designed for the general public) are still very traditional in this aspect.
As a part of the conference entitled: A Space for the Future – Library Buildings in the 21st Century Rolf Hapel asked the question “Why go to the physical library in the future?” as a part of his presentation. Some of the answers he gave that resonated most with me were about using the space to promote learning and cultural experience.
We currently live in an environment where achieving the ideal of the library as a community space is difficult goal. Tuomas Toivonen wrote in the article “Need for new community?” that “…the way urban environment and culture is developing, it is clear that the logic of ‘efficiency = profit’ is inducing and driving change in society and city.” I would argue that one of the public library’s greatest strengths is its lack of commercialization. In most cases private funding for public libraries introduces some level of private control and influence over community and information access. This inherently undermines the integrity of information provided by the library, and is directly in violation of essential library ethics.
Private fund raising in libraries can, in some cases, work quite well, but I believe that without careful planning this can be disastrous. Although securing funding to make changes at the library is a challenge I believe that it is not impossible. The best way to secure funding in a public library is to prove to all parties involved that the library is not only exciting and useful, but that positive changes are bringing patrons the services that they want. When this is clear to the community they are much more likely to support it.
The more that I learn about other people’s opinions when it comes to these issues, the more I realize that they agree with me (or I agree with them). Some of these ideas that I have run across include situations I learned about while listening to the podcast of a Talk of the Nation from NPR entitled If a Library Is Bookless, What’s In It? These ideas include the innovative collaboration between The Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County and The Children’s Theatre of Charlotte, called ImagineOn. I was delighted to hear the positive response of listeners to the concept of libraries as community spaces. One listener said, “…Every time I go into the library it’s just about community…there are ways to use the library that you can’t use at home.”
While I believe that this patron’s response is clearly an idyllic one that only a percentage of the population agrees with, I also think that this is a worthwhile direction for libraries to move in. This becomes especially useful when community space can be used to follow a model that encourages cultural education in the way that ImagineOn and other institutions have made successful.
For me the statement made here not only says that the library should be a space for community, but that has to be many other things too. I am certainly not advocating that the library try to be the shopping mall, but if the community loves it’s library why not promote its use for more activities? These activities such as plays, concerts, meetings, and art shows make the space come alive. When these activities have taken place in libraries in the past they have often been very successful. Let’s move forward and make these things possible.
Some of the major factors that made me think about this topic are the limitations of physical space in the library.
DOK even decided to put their stacks of wheels to make the space more flexible.
Drop in soon for the next segment: Library Building Needs
To be continued…