That public libraries are changing comes as no surprise. The Internet alone has transformed libraries (and library users) in extraordinary ways. But other political, economic, and social developments are impacting libraries just as profoundly.
While libraries must change, they must also remain the same.
Despite significant challenges, the core mission and purpose of the public library persists. Having said that, the 21st century public library is not the library you thought you knew. And that, perhaps, is a good thing.
But what if the public library fails to change? What if it doesn’t take on the challenge of community engagement in the 21st century? Does it still deserve community support? Is such a library still needed?
Here are some resources to understand where public libraries are going or should be going.
The 21st Century Library (a view from Guelph)
Expect More (a call to action)
Re-imagining Libraries for the 21st Century (a challenging view of libraries)
The Community-Led Public Library (community development)
Civic Engagement (empowering citizens)
Third Generation Public Libraries (a vision for Ontario libraries)
Forecasting the Future of Libraries (a vision for all libraries)
Younger Americans and Public Libraries (attitudes and behaviours)
Troy Michigan Public Library (a bit of fun, serious fun)
The 21st Century Library
In 2014 Kitty Pope, the Guelph Public Library CEO and Chief Librarian from 2010 to 2014, published a series of articles under the title The 21st Century Library:
In 2012 David Lankes, a true visionary in the library field, published Expect More: Demanding Better Libraries for Today’s Complex World.
Famously Lankes has said “bad libraries build collections, good libraries build services, and great libraries build communities.”
The following excerpted chapters focus on two key concepts: the mission of libraries and the action plan to be more (i.e. a great library):
Re-imagining Libraries for the 21st Century
John Seely Brown is a profound innovator and philosopher of the digital age. His view of libraries in the 21st century is replete with challenges about the nature of knowledge, the exponential state of innovation, the role of institutions, and the way people learn in a networked world. Are libraries ready to embrace Brown’s vision?
The Community-Led Public Library
The community-led public library movement focuses on building strong and deep relationships within the community.
Those relationships allow the library to collaboratively build services and programs that directly respond to community needs. There is a particular emphasis on under-served populations. John Pateman, the CEO and Chief Librarian at the Thunder Bay Public Library, is a leading contributor to this progressive view of public libraries.
John Pateman. The Community-Led Public Library.
(part of his Open for All? column in Open Shelf, May 15, 2015).
In 2012 the Urban Libraries Council in the U.S. issued a report Civic Engagement: Stepping Up to the Civic Engagement Challenge. Following from the philosophy of the community-led library, the ULC report celebrated “the role of libraries in nurturing an active citizenry.” It challenged public libraries to promote community attachment and empowerment. For libraries this would require:
• Raising the library’s profile as a civic engagement leader
• Changing how community stakeholders view the library
• Changing how libraries operate and view themselves
• Being prepared for the challenges that come with a leadership role
Third Generation Public Libraries
Wendy Newman is the former CEO and Chief Librarian at the Brantford Public Library and a former Lecturer at the University of Toronto. She is a passionate and articulate advocate for libraries.
In 2008 she was commissioned by the Ontario Ministry of Culture to assist them in updating public policy about libraries. Her report explored library innovations and opportunities, and offer a blueprint for contemporary libraries.
Forecasting the Future of Libraries
This series of articles curated by the Center for the Future of Libraries was published in the March/April 2015 issue American Libraries (the magazine of the American Library Association).
Miguel Figueroa, Forecasting the Future of Libraries
Miguel Figueroa, Trending Now: A Library of Trends that Matter to Libraries
Greg Landgraf, Making Room for Informal Learning: Librarians Discuss the Future of Makerspaces
Natalie Greene Taylor et al., The School Librarian as Learning Alchemist: Transforming the Future of Education
John Carlo Bertot and Lindsay Sarin, The Future of the MLS: Rethinking Librarian Education
Phil Morehart, The Future, Today: Award-winning Designers Discuss the Library of the Future
Younger Americans and Public Libraries
This 2014 report by Kathryn Zickuhr and Lee Rainie from the Pew Research Center explores “how those under 30 engage with libraries and think about libraries’ role in their lives and communities.”
Troy (Michigan) Public Library
Sometimes libraries are misunderstood or undervalued by their communities. Such was the case with the Troy Michigan Public Library in 2011.
A variety of council motions and public votes promoted by anti-tax groups resulted in such poor funding for the library that it planned to close its doors. A paltry funding allocation kept it barely operating. A small funding increase was proposed by the town council and quickly opposed by the anti-tax group.
And then this happened.