This just came my way from my colleague Laura Isenstein this morning and I thought it would be of interest to all of you…
These are the words of William Robinson, an architect with Engberg Anderson Design Partners from Milwaukee (WI). Enberg Anderson has years of experience in designing public libraries. He was asked this question on LinkedIn.
This is what the vision for the 21st Century Library is all about and what public library service of today and tomorrow is and will be about.
The Question: How do you imagine the library of the future?
"The role of the library, particularly the Public Library (which is what I believe you are asking about) has changed incrementally over the past 20 years or so. While still the repository of literature and often special collections (local history, maritime, archival), the social aspects of the library are what set it apart from the research you can do at home via the internet, and the visit to the local bookstore (still important... keep them open). Most libraries are now recognizing the need to offer interactive learning space - shared computers for kids, vs. individual desktops; study rooms for small groups to work collaboratively or for local business startups to use for meetings; larger public meeting facilities with available technology not found at the local hotel meeting room; etc.
In addition, the library has become an increasingly social environment. A place that people meet and keep in touch with each other, especially among young people and families. In fact in many recent libraries we have designed, the spaces are now assumed to be active and "buzzing" and we are finding ourselves designing the quiet room where those who are seeking a quiet read can go - often near a fireplace and with a cup of coffee nearby.
In addition, with the abundance of internet data out there, and students increasingly seeing Google as the source of all wisdom and knowledge, experienced library staff are an invaluable resource for helping teach "how to research" as opposed to just "where", by helping students discern credible information and how to cross reference sources of information.
Third, the library is the last great social equalizer in most communities. It is the one place that is owned by all the people, and truly accessible to all. Libraries may become the last bastion of truly neutral discourse as the media increasingly delivers information mixed with opinion and bias. And libraries will continue to bring people together, through programming for all ages, and through access to shared resources, in a way that no other private facility can do. They will remain the center of a community. So the shelves of books may decrease, and many may be replaced by shared electronic resources, but the need for space where a community can gather, interact, communicate and learn together will continue to grow.
The role of the librarian will continue to evolve, but remain as vital as ever, and the facilities themselves will change from the shelving-filled warehouses for information that many once were, to the truly active and alive center of the community.