Saturday, 13 June 2015

Public libraries

What is the role of public libraries in 2015?
That is the question!
   It is very apparent that our local public library system has redefined its role in the community.  The role of public libraries in the past was very clear- to encourage the love of reading and provide resources for research.
Andrew Carnegie
Melville Dewey
   When I think of the early days of libraries, I think of Andrew Carnegie and Melville Dewey.
   Carnegie (1835-1919) was an avid reader, who made his money in steel.  At 65, he sold his businesses and became a philanthropist.  He supported many interests but he is remembered for donating 5 million dollars to the New York Public Library.  His money has opened more that 2,800 libraries.
   Dewey (1851-1931) was a librarian who was immensely influential in organizing libraries, by establishing the Dewey Decimal System.  This system of organizing books has really opened up the field of research and made it so easy to narrow in on your area of interest and find the information you need. 

   Well, times have changed!  We have e-readers, and Google.  What more do we need in order to read and research?  So the libraries are changing their focus.  In fact, our library has changed its name.  It is now "Ideas Unlimited". 
   This month, there is gardening, knitting, gaming, rock band instruments, and a painting competition, to name a few activities.  There certainly are 'ideas unlimited'.  And there have been very creative ways to attract the youth.  The building seems to be taking on the role of a community centre.  Sometimes it seems to be a free internet cafe- or just a place to hang out. 
   The library has purchased another large building downtown, where I am told, the focus will be on technology.  The 'big thing' will be 3D printers.
  Will reading and learning still take place in "Ideas Unlimited"?  Well, the face of learning has changed.  It has certainly expanded. Those of us who remember the influences of Carnegie and Dewey would still like to see a focus on reading and learning.
   For this reason, for the past ten years, I have been promoting the idea of a book club in every branch of the library.  Three years ago, I was delighted to be involved in starting a book club at my local branch.  And this year, I am ecstatic to see that there are now five book clubs in our library system.  
  "Ideas Unlimited" has certainly attempted to keep up with the times.  Let's not forget the focus of the past and keep the emphasis on reading and learning!
       I am interested in other thoughts on the role of the public library in 2015.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting thoughts indeed. We have had a great deal of discussion about this in my classes. I wrote a paper about a library in the engineering department of a university in the States a few years ago. The library had completely run out of room because of all the journals they needed to stock for the students. So when the old building ran out of space, they built a new building, 1/3 of the size of the original! They decided to make their library mainly digital, allowing students access to the journals on mobile devices instead of print copies. Their need for storage space decreased, they put in a few computer stations, study areas and the few print materials that wouldn't be constantly changing and updating. It was a bold move, but one that is sure to be followed by many other libraries in the coming years.

    My teachers say that a librarian will always be better than Google, but I'm not sure that will always be the case. It pains me to say that because reference work is where I'd like to end up, but is it a dying field??? Can library users do so much research themselves that the librarians will be superfluous? So, how do libraries stay current?

    You've listed some great examples of what is happening in your branch. The Ottawa Library system is also very forward-thinking in their approach. They have started a bike borrowing program, study groups for teens and I just heard an advertisement on the radio for a pet therapy program some branches are offering for high school students on exams. They're bringing animals into the library to give the students a break from the stress. It's brilliant!

    Also, here in Ottawa many of the branches are located in community centres which helps automatically build bridges. We pop into the library after swimming or skating lessons.

    Libraries seem to be doing a great job so far of staying current with technology (our branch also has a 3D printing program) and keeping themselves relevant in these changing times. It is my hope, as I prepare for a mid-life career change into this field, that libraries have a long and exciting future ahead of them. Maybe I won't be doing the research I had hoped for in the way I originally thought, but I believe I can still be a great help to library users wherever I end up.

    Whew, that was a long post! Maybe you'll be sorry you asked for my thoughts. ;)