Image courtesy of Bexar Bibliotech's Facebook page.

Reimagining the library of the future

Texas has seen the future of the public library, and it looks a lot like an Apple Store: Rows of glossy iMacs beckon. iPads mounted on a tangerine-colored bar invite readers. And hundreds of other tablets stand ready for checkout to anyone with a borrowing card. [...] The library is on pace to surpass 100,000 visitors in its first year. Finding an open iMac among the four dozen at BiblioTech is often difficult after the nearby high school lets out, and about half of the facility’s e-readers are checked out at any given time, each loaded with up to five books.

Texas library offers glimpse of bookless future, AP.

Not only do I find this idea compelling in its own right, but just as importantly, it makes you think of the many other ways in which we could make better use of the space that our libraries provide, if they were not stacked full of physical books. In a time when even my grandparents use e-readers to borrow books from their local library, it makes sense that we begin to at least explore how we can make better use of these abundant public spaces.

Perhaps in the future there could be a section of the library devoted solely to education, where people of any age can sit at a computer and take a free online course, or conduct research using the extensive online archives already accessible in many public libraries. In another area, kids could sit around a table with a tablet at each seat, competing against one another in multiplayer maths or spelling games.

Where today there may only be a few couches and a couple of bean bags in one corner for quiet reading, without the need for shelving there could be far more space devoted to the pleasure of reading a good book, on an e-reader loaned out from the library. Librarians would no longer need to busy themselves with stacking shelves or tending to damaged returns; instead, they could roam the library giving book recommendations, guiding people in their research, and offering tutorials on how to use the technology around them.

More than simply a storage space for a finite collection of titles, the library of the future could be a hub in which people have convenient access to thousands more books than before, enabled by technology and enhanced by an environment which is even more spacious and pleasant than today.

And yet, these ideas, well within the reach of modern technology, represent only one possibility, and I’m certain that many more exist. So what is your vision for the future of the public library? Or if the idea of a traditional library is too deeply embedded, perhaps think of it in terms of, how could we use these open public spaces to have an even more positive effect on our local communities?

Image courtesy of Bexar Bibliotech’s Facebook page (source).