With the advent of e-books, audio books, Kindles and other devices that make the art of reading a digital experience, many wonder with the declining number of bookstores, what will happen to public libraries. For those of us who are lucky to live in places where a library exists, they are not only spaces to read and lend out books, but they also act as community meeting spaces.
However, the increase in digital media has also been compounded with the current economic downturn, which has contributed to the budget cuts and closings of many public libraries around the United States. Even more unfortunate is that many of these endangered public libraries are serving marginalized populations in rural and inner city areas.
Recently, we had a chance to participate in the Digital Diversity Summit, where there was much discussion about the future of public libraries, and specifically how to keep them relevant. Jessamyn West, a Vermont library technologist and am a community manager at MetaFilter.com, said that many librarians, especially in underserved areas, are not up to speed on how to help library users.
“Librarians are trained to do research, not in how to use new technologies,” West said. “Libraries are also exhausted because they are now being used as social service centers.”
It made us think about the future of public libraries – library 2.0 – in marginalized communities. How can these institutions not only have a life once physical, printed literature is buried for good, but also be relevant and useful to its clients?
How about turning public libraries into community media centers? Many libraries already function in this manner already, but maybe it’s time to take this idea further.
Here are our ideas:
1. Provide digital training for librarians: According to the American Library Association, libraries serve 97 percent of the American population, so it is important that librarians be able to help users with as many digital platforms as possible.
2. Provide digital training for library users: Instead of closing down libraries, convert them into community media centers, where users can not only use computers with Internet access for free, but also be trained on how to use e-readers, download free e-books and audio books and learn how to better use the Internet. In our “perfect world,” all kids should be able to go to a library and get their first experience with digital literacy at their local library.
3. Truly make libraries social service centers as well: Since librarians are exhausted by the many demands of their users, there may be a need to have a discussion about expanding the types of people who work in libraries, like having job placement experts, multilingual specialists, legal services, voter registration experts and other service workers.
4. A nationalized digital public library: One issue that has been up for discussion in recent years is the development of a nationalized digital public library. Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society was recently awarded $5 million to go forward on their plans to develop the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA).
“…The DPLA would essentially create a unified repository for all the digital collections of libraries, museums, archives, and anyone else that had digital content of value that they wanted to share with the public. There would be standards for adding data to the repository as well as for accessing data from it. The repository would be secure, redundant, and scalable…”
Read more about the benefits of Library 2.0 here.