Several months back, I read a post by Seth Godin about the future of the library, and it stuck in my head. As the daughter of a librarian, this is something I think about often. As a kid, I spent many hours in the library, searching for books and bringing home as many as I could carry each week. I relied on the library for research, and for socializing as it provided a place for book discussion and showed movies every Saturday morning.
I still visit the library, but when I was a kid it was three blocks away – now it’s a ten minute drive and not always convenient. Though I try, my eight year old son doesn’t hold it in the same regard and he’s not the only one.
Many people have changed their attitudes about the library. What was once THE place to go for reading and learning material is now one of the first places to close as towns and cities struggle to find funding.
The Library Now
I’ll be honest. I love the library. I love browsing books and it’s hard to control myself and pick out only enough to read in a couple of weeks. If I had my druthers, I’d walk away with a wheelbarrow full. The problem is, I have to return them by a certain date. This is where they get me. When I lived in New York City, the library was on my way to the subway and I simply dropped off the books on my way to work. In the town I live now, it’s not in a spot that’s necessarily convenient to me, and between work and family, I can’t always find the the time to drop off. The library has become less convenient for me through no fault of its own.
For the longest time my family used the library mostly for DVDs. Now, we use Netflix and watch movies via cable. Though we have to pay, it’s much easier for us to have everything delivered to our home. In fact, Netflix, and Kindle gave me the idea for this post.
If everything is so automated and convenient, does the library have a future?
What the Library Could Be
I think the library needs to change with the times. There are plenty of ways for it to remain relevant and operable, but it needs a new model.
Subscription based services
Ten to fifteen years ago, my grandmother used to belong to a library in New York City specializing in large print books. She made her selections and the library sent them to her to read. They also included a postage-paid mailer so Grandma could return the books at her convenience. It worked the same way Netflix does now, except it wasn’t an online service.
The library of the future could offer the same type of services with readers selecting books online and either opting to pick them up as they do now, or paying a monthly fee to have books delivered to their homes. If you think people won’t pay, I can assure you that plenty of people buy books simply because they don’t want to have to deal with drop offs and late fees. Seeing how many books are being sold at garage sales, or donated back to the library, I’m thinking that they also take up a lot of space. My Kindle also tells me that folks don’t necessarily have to physically own the books they want to read, either.
Let’s say the average person buys two to three books each month, paying a small subscription fee such as with a service like Netflix. It might be more cost efficient to subscribe to a library service and there’s less clutter in the house.
Wouldn’t it be cool if the library could partner with various e-readers (or create one of their own) so we can arrange to have download books to our Kindles, iPads, Nooks and other readers? Wouldn’t it be cool if we could have a week’s access to available films, but they came straight to our television? The problem with these services is that it will take time and money to put together, and most towns and cities don’t have that kind of budget. However, People come together for libraries all the time and I hope I’m not native in thinking that this type of service could work.
In house services
The library could still offer in house services. Though I don’t borrow as many books as I used to, I still use the library for:
- Movie showings (usually free)
- Book discussions
- Courses and classes (usually free)
- A quiet place to work
- Community meeting spots
There is still a place for all these services, as well as borrowing books, movies and doing research, but it’s just not enough anymore.
When it comes to libraries, I don’t have all the answers. I only know that what was once an important way of life for me is becoming less convenient. Even in this economy, people are choosing convenience over free. Will our libraries be able to adapt and keep up? Or will they fall to the wayside as being irrelevent?
What are your thoughts and possible solutions? How do you see the library of the future?