Tuesday, December 23, 2008

just imagine

As one of my final assignments for my class we did a thought exercise on what the library of 2040 would look like according to us:

Oh man, I can get pretty excited imagining the library of the future…well at least my version of it. Of course I don’t know what will be new and hot in 2040 … but the #1 thing about this library is that it quickly adapts to meet the needs and trends of its community. It is NOT always 15 years behind the rest of society. It’s bold, it’s gutsy, and it’s not afraid to try. Here’s a bit about it:

It still has:

  • lots of popular materials (whatever people want to get their hands on)
  • knowledgeable staff (who are fun, happy and love to help people)
  • great services that meet patrons needs
  • great programs that meet patrons needs

New awesomeness:

  • this library places priority on creating and maintaining a “third space” where the negativity of many libraries/librarians has been stripped out. Everything is patron focused instead of staff/budget/tradition focused.
  • the services it offers are delivered in variety of convenient methods
  • it has a thriving web presence that is a “first stop” for the community. Aside from the resources that library offers, it has conveniently collected and organized community information
  • there are catalog kiosks in the stacks
  • there are laptops that patrons can check out and use anywhere in the library
  • there are designated quiet spaces - the rest of the library is NOT quiet
  • is has an OPAC (or something else entirely) that doesn’t suck
  • it’s either right next to a park or has a large lawn used for programs
  • this library is a full partner with the rest of the community

Thursday, December 04, 2008

thinking third space

For my class this quarter, The Usable Library, taught by Aaron Schmidt , we were recently asked to consider libraries as Third Spaces and watch a short lecture by James Howard Kunstler (it was very interesting! go watch it). Below are my thoughts:

“When you degrade the public realm you will automatically degrade the quality of your civic life.” (Kunstlser)

This line really stuck out to me. I just returned from the YALSA Lit Symposium in Nashville and while I was there I kept exclaiming to my fellow colleague/traveling buddy how beautiful it was. It’s a city I want to go back to. The buildings (even the old rundown ones) were amazing, the downtown was fun, lively and well planned, it felt good to be there.

Where do we go to relax and enjoy? Why do we go to those places? Sure there’s usually some extrinsic reason like coffee or books or shopping, but that’s not usually why we pick that place over all the others that offer a similar thing, that’s not why we enjoy those places so much. They have some intrinsic, often intangible, value. A lot of it has to do the the environment and energy of the place. Unfortunately for libraries, most of them have a type of environment that does not encourage third space use. We don’t have a lot of sitting and gathering areas, we have rules that limit activities and noise, we feel cramped and dingy. We don’t make people feel comfortable.

Lisa Ebert a library student from Dominican wrote an interesting final paper on how libraries can take third space tips from Starbucks. Her paper is entitled: Transforming Public Libraries into “Third Places”: Lessons to Be Learned from Starbucks. If we wish to become those valued third spaces (something I’m absolutely all for) we need to actively work on making the library an experience to be enjoyed and a planned destination-not just a quick stop along the way.

This will require a mind-shift though for many people - especially those who have been in the profession for many years. Like most things it's a trade off. If we allow food and drink we risk damages to books, computers and carpet...but maybe the risk is minimal compared to the benefit of people lounging around the library eating a snack and savoring a book. If we allow people to talk on their cell phones and have conversations with each other that are louder than a whisper we risk annoying staff and other patrons who have come to the library expecting a quiet place to study or apply for job...but maybe it's worth the risk so we don't anger or frustrate patrons by shushing them, so that we can allow patrons to experience the library as a social place that becomes a destination. The concerns are valid and some need a solution, but we're hitting a point in time where we need to realize that the costs do not out weigh the benefits