Libraries are constantly evolving to meet the needs of their diverse communities. Far from being a simple repository of books and media, today’s libraries serve as invaluable resources for everything from data analytics to 3-D printing and beginning lessons in coding.
In 2018 and beyond, it’s critical for the modern library to take in the changing faces of its patrons and respond accordingly. Every demographic is different, but there are countless ways that the modern library can respond to recent trends and offer information and resources that are both innovative and relevant to its users.
Image ALT Text: A robotic hand prototype.
According to the American Library Association Top Technology Trends resource, libraries worldwide spend $1.8 billion on technology. These facilities often offer users their first hands-on access to new products. One popular way that libraries are increasing accessibility to new technologies is through makerspaces. Makerspaces include tech like virtual reality content creation labs, 3-D printers, product fabrication tools, PCB milling machines, laser cutters, and more.
Makerspaces can serve many valuable purposes including:
- Facilitating prototype creation for entrepreneurs and inventors
- Educating patrons on science and technology
- Promoting creative problem solving
- Offering experiential learning opportunities
Library science professionals must strive to develop makerspaces and other technology labs that cater to the distinct needs of their demographics. Makerspaces can be entire on-site labs, mobile carts, or even backpacks filled with tools that are available for loan.
Gamification is an emerging trend that frames learning in the easily accessible format of a game. Games are increasingly seeing use for everything from elementary school education to professional training. Game mastery helps promote many skills, including math, logic, spatial reasoning, reading, and writing.
Players may seek out the library for guides and handbooks to help them enhance their game play. Examining how video games encourage kids to read, Brecht Vandenbroucke noted in an article for Wired that The Ultimate Player’s Guide scored between grades 8 and 11 on the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease scale, yet books like this are often devoured by elementary age children who are motivated by their interest in games such as Minecraft. By supplying the right literature, libraries can promote literacy among players who are interested in learning more about the games that interest them.
Libraries can also serve as a meeting place for players, offering the opportunity for socialization through gaming. The Darien Library in Connecticut runs its own Minecraft server, and the Hudson Library in Ohio hosted a Minecraft build-off. Promoting co-play in pairs, groups, or classes, libraries can help encourage players to explore various game elements together by asking questions, sharing insights, and processing new discoveries together.
Virtual reality (VR) technology provides the user with a headset that transports them to immersive destinations where they can look up, down, and around simply by moving their heads. Libraries have long served as critical access points to new technologies. When computers and the internet were still new innovations, the local library was often the easiest place for users to get online.
Today, libraries may have the opportunity to offer users their first interactions with virtual reality. In California, Oculus launched an initiative that made 100 Oculus Rift headsets and VR-ready computers available in 90 libraries. With a price tag of about $1,500 for a headset and VR-ready PC, this technology may not be accessible to the average consumer yet. However, libraries that offer this type of technology can help new users acclimate to the systems, which are already coming down in price, even as they experience museum collections or exotic travel destinations remotely thanks to VR.
It’s fairly common for libraries to offer basic computer literacy classes on topics such as word processing, spreadsheets, and internet use. Today, many facilities are finding a great demand for more advanced classes, as well, particularly for those that explore coding. These classes are popular among patrons of all ages.
In Library Journal, the manager of the digital experience at Westport Public Library in Connecticut, Alex Giannini, says, “Kids today are growing up with an iPad in their hands. They don’t have to learn the digital language; they’re born with it.” He goes on to note that offering coding classes at a younger age helps these tech-savvy youths grasp deeper concepts of technology.
Coding classes have been successful for libraries across the country, from the Berkeley Public Library in California to the Orlando County Library System in Florida. These offerings bring in new patrons and provide fresh, valuable resources to regulars who want to learn something new.
Establishing, maintaining, and growing a social media presence is important for libraries. Gregg Dodd, Director of Marketing at Columbus Metropolitan Library, explains the value of a digital strategy clearly, saying, “Our users live in a digital world, so this is an important space to connect with them.”
Social media links make library events, activities, and offerings easily sharable. Digital content such as historical photographs are ripe for social sharing, as well. By responding to social media tags, comments, or mentions, libraries gain a valuable opportunity to engage with their audience and strengthen social connections.
Libraries are perfectly poised to take an active role in the field of data analytics. The library has long been responsible for gathering, organizing, and safeguarding valuable information. Modern research and data collection has come a long way from the days libraries were managing and accessing some of the earliest dial-up online databases. Today, digital data is collected in such overwhelming amounts that one of the biggest challenges lies simply in analyzing the information to find meaningful conclusions in the overabundance of data.
In coming years, these institutions will need to determine the best way to make use of the data available to them. Some opportunities include:
- Compiling and connecting data across research studies and reports
- Providing easily searchable and understandable data to users
- Developing and promoting educational content curated using data sources
- Translating data into informational exhibits and programs
For those intrigued by the modern face of today’s library systems, there are unique opportunities to become part of the change. Tomorrow’s librarians can help spearhead new innovations in library technology and program development with a library science degree online from USC Marshall School of Business. This cutting-edge program can equip students with the insights they need to help shape the future of the world’s libraries.
Gamification – American Library Association
Virtual Reality – American Library Association
Data Everywhere – American Library Association
Issues and Trends American Library Association
Top Tech Trends – American Library Association
How to Talk Code: Digital Literacy – Library Journal
Breaking Barriers: How One Library is Making Coding More Accessible – Public Libraries Online
Social Media Optimization: Five Principles to Guide your Online Activities – American Libraries
Mine and Craft @ Your Library: Host a Build-Off! – CCGC Libraries
My Public Library Minecraft Community – School Library Journal