Posted on September 27, 2013 in Archive

What the future looks like for libraries

27Sep

Can you remember the last time you set foot in a public library? Many people can’t.

That doesn’t mean that libraries are on the decline, though. This article by Paul Sawers discusses some of the innovations that libraries around the world are undertaking to bring the humble library roaring into the twenty-first century, and some of these efforts are damn impressive.

Some libraries are going completely bookless. That might sound like a bit of an oxymoron, but bear with me. The Bibliotech Library in Bexar County, Texas is such a library. Instead of books, the library is equipped with 50 computer stations, 25 laptops, 25 tablets and 150 e-readers available to loan out to members (50 of which are specifically for children).

Eventually other media such as movies and music will be available to loan out, though they currently offer 10,000 e-book titles, and hope to expand that figure yearly. People close to the project hope that it will be a learning environment, where members of the public can learn about technology as well as have access to an enormous amount of information.

The traditional bibliophiles (by which I mean the paper, rather than digital, book lovers) currently reading this are probably shrinking with fear, but never fear – not all libraries are treading this super-futuristic path.

Some are giving the traditional ‘book searching’ method a shot of adrenaline and a pair of robotic arms. The Hunt Library, at North Carolina’s State University, has incorporated perhaps the most unusual feature anyone has seen at a library for a long time – a bookBot.

The bookBot is a fascinating way to store and deliver books – basically, books are stored in thousands of boxes that are stacked in order to maximise space (one ninth of the usual space to hold these books is required, leaving room for the estimated 100 study rooms and spaces found around the library instead). The bookBot then travels up and down throughout the aisles of boxes to collect your book, which is then delivered to an operator within minutes of your request.

The whole system sounds fascinating, and is an ingenious method of keeping track of the library catalogue. You no longer have to leave your laptop unattended to find a book, though you can still experience the serendipity of book discovery (definitely watch the video below, if you don’t know what that means).

Here’s a video by the university, if you would like to learn more about the system:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ftxl5OaURy8&w=560&h=315]

The coolest idea yet though, might be the concept of libraries on the go. When I say that, I don’t just mean your personal e-library on your Kindle or Nobo reader. The simplest way to explain it would be to call it a pop-up digital library. Kind of like those trendy pop-up restaurants and bars that have been so successful in the last few years, but this feast is for your eyes.

The Books on the Fly campaign, which launched in June, allows travellers to scan QR codes located around select airports in the U.S. that will send them to the Kansas State Library eLending service. Don’t have a membership with KSL? Not a problem. You can be directed to Project Gutenberg instead, where titles under public domain can be downloaded for free.

To many, the idea of an airport library can be something of a confusing one, but it could help many bored and stressed travellers find something to read.

It may seem like this blog is focusing solely on American efforts at ultramodern libraries, but don’t worry, we’ve got some nifty European examples too. While we’re in the vein of airports and libraries, let me show you an actual library located inside an airport.

The Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands has a physical library containing 1,250 titles in 29 languages, a solid effort for such a one-of-a-kind library. You can’t actually leave with any books (since returning a book from overseas might prove tricky), and surprisingly the library has suffered minimal catalogue losses. This effort focuses more on getting people to read rather than flashy technology, but it really seems to be working.

Library evolution has been a big initiative in Greece in the past year – the “Un-Conference”, consisting of 98 events across eight libraries in Macedonia, discussed the library of the future and how they can strive towards transforming libraries into digital learning centres and more focal community points.

All of these are great possibilities for the future of libraries. None of these options have proven themselves to be the ultimate goal that all libraries should aspire to, but that might just be because nearly all of these projects are still in their infancies. So keep an eye on what your local library is up to, because it might eventually set the standard for libraries in the twenty-first century.