The Evolution of the Library - From Quiet Space to Interactive, Vibrant Research Hub
The library is one of the oldest institutions in the United States. The original free lending library opened in 1790 with the help of Benjamin Franklin. But a lot has changed for libraries over the years. From Franklin’s small, book-sharing library to the basement reading rooms of our elementary schools to the high-tech research facilities of today, the role and scope of the American library has changed dramatically over the centuries.
Libraries, in their most basic incarnation, are a repository for the written word. Curated and cared for by librarians, the facility is simply a quiet place to loan or read a book to which you might otherwise not have access. In larger public libraries, the collection might include back issues of newspapers and articles that a student might use as research for an assignment or to earn a degree. Of course, this function has remained at the core of most libraries but more and more, libraries are beginning to modernize and adapt to the increasingly digital future.
As information and access has moved online in the past two decades, so have libraries. With free public Internet access and subscriptions to massive online databases, the library is now more than ever a portal to an entire globe of living information. The librarian is no longer tasked with only caring and distributing physical books, but has become an information ambassador, guiding patrons through the wide array of tools and services provided through the library. College students can now access exclusive science journals, parents can reserve children’s books from home or the adventurous traveller can learn a new language.
Now more than ever, the library has become a hub for research and academic engagement for America’s students. Where aggressive shushing once reigned supreme, the library is now a space for intellectual discussion. Study groups and research partners can sit down and exchange ideas, empowered by the wealth of information surrounding them. A graduate student can practice a presentation with a projector and a lectern, rather than standing in front of their bedroom mirror.
And while the library will forever be primarily a quiet place of knowledge, many institutions have smartly adapted to the growing needs and habits of their patrons. With 24 hour online access, inter-library partnerships and free wireless internet, the library is now more than ever a place of community, bringing together people of all ages, backgrounds and interests.
With so many tools available to librarians, they are able to more closely customize their advice and expertise to their patrons. Where once they may have been limited to the physical books in their library, they now can point students and community members to online resources that may be more specific and up-to-date. And with more patrons using the library’s many resources exclusively online, librarians are able to spend more time with the people who come into the physical location, engendering a sense of trust and partnership between the institution and its users.
With the world changing as rapidly as it is, it only makes sense that libraries have changed along with it. From a book repository to a multi-media research hub, the modern library is a powerful tool that will be relevant to generations of Americans. And earning a library science degree online will help you become a part of that legacy.