Discussion: Re-imagining Libraries
Kel Friday, July 10, 2015 discussion
I love libraries. I loved perusing the shelves, searching for hidden story gems as a kid and an adult. Some libraries are fortunate enough to reside in literary communities full of like-minded readers. Others...not so fortunate.
As I understand it, the primary purpose of (public) libraries is to make information accessible to the public and, historically, to provide a place for the community to assemble and discuss ideas. That sounds a lot more like a school or university library these days. I raid the nonfiction section now and then, but I'm usually checking out fictional stories. And checking out books, I'm probably in the minority at my local library; the majority come for the computers alone. But that's just it: "making information accessible," in the form of books, isn't relevant to most of this library's patrons. Essentially, they just want (and use) a free internet cafe.
On top of the lack of interest in books, fiction and non-fiction, public libraries are funded by government. Their budgets are determined by what the government gives, which (correct me if I'm wrong) I believe is affected by how much "business" they do. They can also be subject to some of the government's bureaucratic limitations and unnecessary expenses (such as paying double for a computer due to City contracts).
You guys are all readers. You love books. I know librarians talk about this stuff all the time, but I'm interested in your thoughts. What are your ideas for making libraries relevant in communities that don't utilize them? Here are a few brain kick-starters:
- How would you draw in non-readers and get them, not just excited about reading, but excited about reading for the rest of their lives?
- Would you target families as a whole? Just parents?
- Ideas to make libraries more cost-effective or cost-efficient? What do you think of a possible public/private hybrid system for libraries?
- I know no one likes to talk about libraries being anything but free, but your tax dollars already go to them, so what about instituting a subscription model? Would library services be more valued because you know exactly what you're paying for them?
- What about more meeting spaces or driving more conversation about hot topics? Libraries were houses of debate and discussion back in the day. Do you think that would appeal to people now? Would more discourse lead to a more informed public?
- Do libraries need to offer "information" in more tangible forms? More classes on practical skills perhaps?
- Do the libraries just look old and need a fresh set of decor? Comfier seating? More seating? A full cafe like Barnes & Noble? Would that bring more people in or get them to stay longer?
- Or a new set of rules, perhaps? Maybe people don't come because they want to chat, not whisper while glancing at the librarians in fear.
- Is increasing readership a lost cause? Are people who prefer movies and video games and TV just never going to be interested in more than 30-minutes on the computer? And if that's the case, should libraries adapt to that type of consumer and change their premises and services accordingly?
I know that's a lot of questions, but you guys are a bright bunch, so I'm hoping to hear a lot of ideas. It can be along any, all or none of these thought trains. Just, how would you revitalize libraries not getting used?