DC Public Library Services and Facilities: A Framework for Continuing Success
"While some believed the Internet might retire the library, the reverse has occurred. Over the past decade, libraries have embraced technology resources, and library visits and circulation have grown by 20 percent. The recession has only increased the demands on the public library."
--Roberta Stevens, president, American Library Association (2010)
To paraphrase Mark Twain, the reports of the death of the public library have been greatly exaggerated. In the 21st century, public libraries are more important, more relevant and more essential to our communities than ever before. And while the essential services provided by libraries have not changed, across the nation and around the world librarians are finding ways to better serve the public using new methods and tools.
This section highlights some of the current and evolving trends in library services.
Libraries are focusing on people, not just "stuff."
Until recently, the primary focus in library facilities planning was as storehouses for books and other materials. And while this is still an element in library facilities planning, attention is now being given to the importance of libraries as gathering places, locations where the community can come together.
The big, imposing desks that librarians traditionally sat behind are being replaced with different ways of arranging furniture and space; and libraries are being designed to encourage and facilitate collaborative, side-by-side interaction between library staff and library users.
Libraries help create and sustain healthy communities.
Libraries support "brain health" by providing intellectually stimulating activities and opportunities for people of all ages.
While there are new formats for reading, reading itself remains a vital skill, and a skill that libraries continue to promote vigorously through their services, programs and resources.
Libraries provide storytelling and other reading-readiness programs for very young children; they offer homework help, chess clubs and other intellectually enriching activities for school children and teens; help for teens in developing the skills and knowledge they need to enter college or the workforce; and services, programs and resources to support literacy and other life skills and enrichment for people of all ages.
Learning languages, participating in civic discussions, and attending interesting and challenging programs offered by libraries--everything from traditional readings and lectures to origami workshops and yoga sessions--all help keep people creatively, intellectually and physically active and independent.
Libraries are family-friendly destinations.
Libraries have always served children and families, but in the past children and teens were usually relegated to segregated sections of the library, sometimes even being provided with separate entrances that would help keep them "neither seen nor heard."
In today's libraries, children and teens are seen, heard and welcomed, as are their parents and grandparents, along with all the other members of the community.
The library is also one of the few places in modern society where multi-generational activities are promoted and encouraged, and collaboration across generations happens in the library in a way that it doesn't happen in other places.
The library is a place that welcomes everyone in the community, and where "the community can be introduced to itself."4
Libraries are welcoming places.
Comfortable seating, open spaces designed for conversation and collaborative learning, and amenities such as coffee carts all make the library a more inviting place, a place that encourages people to meet, explore and work together.
Libraries provide access to digital technology--tools, training, and information.
"The future is already here. It's just not evenly distributed yet." -William Gibson, author
For many people, the public library is the only place where they have free access to the Internet. As such, it is a vital connection to information and resources that people use to educate themselves, find jobs, and enrich and improve their lives in a wide variety of ways. The public library provides not only access to these tools and resources, but also valuable education and training in how to use them.
On the other side of the digital divide, many people no longer need assistance in accessing information. For library users who are able to find what they need on their own and prefer to do so, libraries provide access to library materials remotely, allowing them to get the information they need whether or not library buildings are open.
Libraries stimulate and promote creativity.
While libraries continue to provide quiet spaces for those who need them for reading or studying alone, spaces in which people can work together collaboratively, sharing and creating are increasingly included in library facilities design.
"Libraries used to be like a supermarket, where you would go to get the ingredients you need to take home to your kitchen and make something," says Joan Frye Williams, library futurist. "Today the library is becoming more like a kitchen, where 'meals' can be prepared and shared in a community setting."5
Libraries contribute to a healthy economy.
At all times, but especially in times of economic difficulty, libraries are a critical public resource for workforce development where individuals who are looking for jobs, changing careers, and developing and building their professional skills and abilities in a variety of ways can find the tools, services and resources they need.
Libraries are good for the community at large as well: they support traditional businesses, and they are also a vital resource for "the new creatives," the class of entrepreneurs who are helping to develop and redevelop urban centers--artists, software developers, musicians and other creative workers.
In addition, libraries support the kind of traffic and offer the high-tech infrastructure that stimulates economic development in urban settings. The opening of Chicago's Harold Washington Library Center in the South Loop launched the redevelopment of that formerly blighted neighborhood. In Salt Lake City, new commercial and residential building has surrounded the new main library.
4George Needham and Joan Frye Williams, Library Consultants