The Reinvention of the Library

By Joe Moore

Dylan said, “The times they are a changin’.”, and it’s true in so many areas of our lives. An obvious example is analyzing the demographics of the recent presidential election and realizing that 20th Century political strategies don’t work in the 21st Century. But beyond politics, there are many other changes taking place, particularly in the publishing industry with the rapid growth of electronic books.

BranchPhotoNOSo in this age of digital publishing, how will the community library adapt and survive?

Some, like the ones in my South Florida region are reinventing themselves with a solid plan for keeping their doors open. Libraries still have millions of books to lend, but what some are doing, and all need to consider, is to turn themselves into active community centers. They need to expand book-lending into a wide variety of community services and functions from helping with job searches to offering classes in a wide variety of activities for all ages. Getting bodies in the door and becoming places to socialize are the keys.

BranchPhotoNO1In my community of Coral Springs, among teaching dance and cooking lessons, and how to use Craig’s List, the library system offers a smart phone app that helps patrons learn more than 30 languages.

Because of the expanded features, local libraries are defying dire predictions of death in the digital age and are now busier than any time in their history. Statistics show that fewer than half of the library’s transactions involve the checking out of a printed book. Patrons are downloading e-BranchPhotoNO2books, audiobooks and music through the library’s online sites.

The use of the library’s cybercafés and free WiFi is exploding. Now patrons can borrow DVDs, e-book readers and iPads. Their popularity is evident with long waiting lists for each. There is an abundance of online classes including foreign language courses and arts and crafts.

The goal as stated by so many library managers is to let the public know that they’re about more than just books. The main library in the county has a first-floor lounge with 56 computers available for their patrons, many struggling with the economy. With many out of work, they no longer have Internet access. That’s where the library comes in. Advice and classes in resume writing, interview techniques and how to search want ads are basic features of the reinvented library.

The times are changing for the better with libraries becoming less of a dusty, silent reading room to an active, busy community hub; a fun and useful place for everyone.

How about the libraries in your community. Are they adapting or struggling? And even more interesting, when was the last time you visited your local library.


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13 thoughts on “The Reinvention of the Library

  1. I’m at the library every week. They definitely have a plethora of computers and do e-reader lending, but I don’t know about the other stuff.

    As a historical writer, my main concern is continuing to be able to access the books that no one will ever bother to put in e-book format. All the best historical reference works for the period in history I write about tend to have been written in the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s. Except for a few, most of those will never be converted to e-book.

    I also wish libraries had more user friendly policies and hours to lend themselves to writers groups meeting. In the first place, their hours are so limited it is restrictive, but they also will not allow groups to meet if there are any sales involved (which kind of shoots down having a guest speaker who brings books to sell).

    There’s nothing worse then a writers group trying to meet in a noisy restaurant. UGH!

    BK Jackson

  2. I love libraries. I live in a small community and our library is a hub for continued literacy efforts. Unfortunately, this past year the possibility of expansion– including, as you mentioned, computers and other offerings– came up to vote, the town didn’t approve the increased taxes. When services are dependent upon increased taxes in an already taxed-out economy, pillars like the library are sometimes the first to feel that pain.

  3. Jordan, move to South Florida. Current temp is 80.

    BK, library research, especially for historical work, is a perfect reason to visit. The lack of the features on your wish list is usually budget issues. Some areas do better than others, but all communities have taken a hit over the last few years.

    Julie, you’ve got the same issues as BK. Hopefully, the economy will keep growing. We’re lucky here in Broward County to still have a strong library system supported by the public. I wish it were that way everywhere.

  4. Our library has most of the above, thankfully. I’ve been checking out their ebook listing with glee, and their cyber cafe is always full. I take my kids to the weekly kids book readings, and read back covers while I wait. I love our library.

  5. Our library in Missoula, Montana, is a great place. I have to confess that I haven’t been around for a while. However, I checked in two weeks ago, reactivated my card and find it to be a great place. They even have a coffee bar. Back in the day, you’d be killed for chewing gum in there. Now they got coffee and pastries. And the joint is packed with people–“normal” people. And then I discovered the eBook connection between libraries and Amazon Kindle–as in many eBooks are now FREEEE!! And you can order and download from the comfort of your own computer.

    But go down and check out your local library. Walk through the stacks and see actual books. Gone is the old card catalog. But, hey! And they even got writing books in there, too! Ain’t that sumpin’?

  6. I must admit, Kessie, that I haven’t done anything in a long time “with glee”. But that’s probably my fault. I’m getting too old and crotchety. 🙂

    Jim, your library sounds really nice, and well worth the visit. I, too, have checked out e-books to my Kindle from the library. Who would have thought?

  7. LA has a great library system, and the two local branches I go to (one of which is where I went as mere pup) are friendly and well stocked. I also love taking the subway (yes, LA has a subway system, though comparing it to, say, New York’s would be like comparing Charlie Sheen to Laurence Olivier) to the downtown branch and doing research there.

    One thing, though, over the years, the idea that you kept your voice down in a library has gone the way of the Betamax. Even among librarians. A definite sign of the decline of Western Civilization.

    • I was working a “project” up in Universal Studios’ Black Tower and could look down and watch the subway station being constructed. I hear it’s a nice subway. Even go to Long Beach on it!! However, I left town (escaped) for Montana and never rode on it.

      My last visit to the library, I saw a girl getting busted for talking (LOUD) on her cellphone right in the middle of everyone reading. That was a good one. Almost as good as watching this guy in a BMW getting ticked in front of the Brentwood Chin Chin for parking in the handicapped space. Wow, I miss L.A.

  8. Thanks for telling us about your local libraries, Joe. Let’s hope the rest of them across the continent are keeping pace! Even though I was a very active school librarian for two years, I confess I haven’t visited my community branch library in over a year. Time to get my butt over there! Getting away from my computer for a while would be a good thing for a lot of reasons, anyway! And supporting our libraries is good for everyone in the community, especially the less fortunate, who don’t have computers at home to google info.

  9. Fort Scott Kansas has a Carnegie Library built in 1902, one of the first in Kansas. Carnegie libraries were the first to have open stacks for browsing. Before, you had to get the librarian to fetch your book for you.

    It is very small, but well stocked with new releases (many a TKZer is on the shelves.) The librarians are wonderful. I hadn’t been in there for a year and I still didn’t have to show my card.

    My bestie was a grant goddess in charge of major gifts for the library system in a major city and she was responsible for funding an incredible multi-media expansion for her county’s system. I love how libraries are evolving.

  10. Libraries are turning into more multi-media centers and are thriving, judging from the numbers of patrons when I stop by. Free classes, computers, lectures, and more offer a sanctuary as well as a learning center.

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