Friday, January 29, 2010

The value of libraries in the 21st-century

So I also asked the people I'd mentioned (who weren't big library users) to describe to me what it was they'd ever loved about libraries or what would bring them into libraries.

The first person I asked - my voracious reader who felt disaffected from her local public library these days - what she used to love about the library. (Because she'd mentioned liking the library so much as a child...) She talked about the sense that it was a space of limitless discovery, that whole unexplored universes were available to her on the library shelves, that no ideas were off-limits. She could just lose herself in the stacks.

I remember that sense of wonder when - as a child - you enter the library and see this dizzying array of books, colors, and opportunities. So that made total sense to me.

For my second person (yes, my husband), who doesn't read a lot, but who likes doing things in his workshop, he mentioned the concept of a "tool library" like one we'd seen (in Berkeley?) when we lived out in California... This reminded me of a concept I've had in mind for quite a while now, using the library as a community exchange center for programs like BookMooch, where people can trade books, but there is the enforced accountability of doing it through something like a third-party organization and where the delivery can be easily managed by the library. Especially, if the library starts working to send materials by mail, like NetFlix does. But that's a whole other topic, because there's other useful aspects to the NetFlix business model besides the material delivery process.

That second thing might sound like a stretch, but let's get all of the ideas on the table, before we knock any of them out of the running. The point is to ask people what they need from a public, community space like a library... what needs aren't being met elsewhere, just to get a much broader array of ideas.

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