What does the modern library look like?

Libraries have long held a position of importance in societies – as collectors of information, and more broadly as guardians of community stories and culture. While the need and desire for a library has remained consistent throughout history, the look, feel and services provided by this public institution have certainly changed. In this rapidly changing world, what does a modern library look like?

The buildings are different.

Before libraries existed as stand-alone institutions, libraries existed in many forms, such as the Greek temples that housed archive repositories, and Babylonian temples filled with clay tablets.

Fast forward to the present, and design is taking center stage as modern-day libraries are being constructed with better acoustics to enhance presentations and architects are incorporating more glass to take advantage of natural light.

Consider the Hot Springs Library renovation on the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina, named Library Journal’s 2018 Best Small Library in America. In the new library, flexible, mobile furnishings add versatility, and children can learn from and play with a sensory wall in the children’s area.  The Calgary Public Library, meanwhile, has its own light rail stop, and the Halifax Central Library in Canada, which has an on-site coffee lounge, has become a tourist attraction in its own right.

Librarians are now facilitators of 21st century literacy.

Say goodbye to the stereotypical librarian, or the myth of a staffer sitting behind a desk with huge reference guides to the side, waiting for patrons to approach and ask for help, maybe occasionally shushing noisy visitors.

Librarians now are facilitators of 21st century literacy, using technology to more efficiently help people find content and are thus able to reduce back office work and spend more time away from their desks, interacting with patrons.

“These modern professionals can guide people on the information superhighway and give advice on the pit stops to take,” explains Amandeep Kochar, Baker & Taylor’s Executive Vice President of Software Products and Services.  Kochar explained that in a complex world, it helps to have an expert whom you trust to help you navigate and find what you want. Kochar pictures librarians as becoming increasingly known as that expert for information of all kinds.

Technology services, such as Evidence-based Selection Planning, or ESP, by collectionHQ, make it possible for librarians to spend less time researching to build collections and more time servicing patrons and exploring new programming.

Patrons don’t just find content at libraries, they can create it there, too.

Libraries also are not only collecting content, they are helping others create it. The Chinguacousy Branch of the Brampton Public Library, for example, has a recording studio.

As Rebecca Raven, the library system’s CEO shared during her TEDX talk, the skilled library staff are assisting individuals in creating their own content or preserving history, making content including podcasts and music, or recording oral histories.

Libraries are emerging as ideal spaces for MakerSpaces, according to the Urban Libraries Council. This means libraries can inspire next-generation STEM leaders by offering resources to learn about subjects including computer programming, audio and video capture and editing, self-publishing, and laser cutting. The Brampton Public Library is already embracing technology, with librarians helping a patron by printing a plastic replacement knob for a dryer using a 3D printing machine.

Libraries are extending beyond their physical spaces.

Looking farther ahead, expect to see the library expanding beyond its walls to provide resources that help to create community outcomes.

A prime example is the Pop Up Library box, a small box the size of Apple TV device that can be put most anywhere where people gather, ideally for 20 minutes or longer, such as a bus terminal, hotel lobby, soup kitchen, or government offices. These boxes generate their own WiFi network and router, which people can connect to from a mobile device and use to access ebooks from the library’s collection. The book can be downloaded into the browser and finished at a later time. The library benefits from increased brand recognition, more checkouts and more footprints, and the community wins when more people are reading.

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