I want you to picture a library. What do you see? Books, of course, on shelves towering above you. Desks with lamps? Does it seem a bit dusty, smell a little dank? It’s quiet; all libraries are. That respectful hush that falls over everyone, allowing patrons to explore, go on adventures, build new technologies with their minds, all in peace. Libraries haven’t seemed to change much over the years.
Santa Ana Army Air Base (SAAAB) Service Club Library by Orange County Archives licensed under CC BY 2.0
I'd like to dispel that myth. Libraries of today are a vastly different place than they were even as recently as 10 years ago. What has changed so much? Simply put, the technology. The world of internet, 3D printing, SMART Boards, and digitizing books, magazines and journal articles has expanded in leaps and bounds. Some libraries are fortunate enough to house some of those amazing advances, and they are quickly changing their patrons’ outlook on local libraries.
Technology Allows Libraries to Run Smoothly
Gone are the days of flipping through a card catalog, then searching through the shelf to see if the materials are even in stock. Most libraries have digitized their collection inventory and patrons and staff alike can quickly search their database to find the materials and see if it is on the shelf, with a few quick clicks of a mouse. These databases are also able to house patron data and history, which allows for more personalized experience. Staff can now make recommendations based on your check out history, patrons can get emails or text alerts when their items are due or when an item of interest is back on the shelf. No longer does a book require a stamped card insert reminding the reader of the due date- it’s more likely you'll receive a receipt style printout. All of these things combined makes for a well-oiled machine feel to the daily operations of the library, and makes for an encompassing approach for patrons. Younger generations appreciate the more technological advances, and older generations appreciate the effectiveness and increased efficiency.
Increased Efficiency in the Learning Process
More readily available formats available mean patrons don’t need to physically visit the library to find material. In some libraries, “patrons have their needs met by interacting with the digital library’s website from which they can download magazine or journal articles, download genealogy and census record documents, download e-books, view digitized documents and newspapers, participate in online discussions, obtain answers to questions and so forth.” (Matthews, 2013) For some, visiting the local library, or even a campus library for college students, requires free time to do so. Some simply find that there isn’t enough time in the day. That is where digital libraries come in. Many resources are available in digital format through the library, and books and materials can even be reserved or renewed online.
Public Interest is Piqued
This is probably my favorite way to dispel that "moldering old library" myth. When we think of the educational system today, there are many shortcomings. A major one is standardized testing. This has led to a very rote “skill and drill” style of teaching and learning in America. Students are then forced to look elsewhere if they want development in something that really intrigues them. “A real education has to give equal weight to the arts, the humanities, to physical education” (Robinson, 2013). Enter the modern library. A popular community hub; a place for learning, art, and fun.
There is somewhat of an “if you build, they will come” mentality to upgrading technology in a library. If you have advanced technology available, you will spark public interest. Many libraries now have resources for presentations or meetings, like the use of SMART Boards and even free Wi-Fi. Hardenbrook (2016) conducted an out of the box “career day” at his library. He had a group of students describe what they thought of when they think Librarian. Of course, there were the typical responses like “Shh!” and even “Mean” and “Old Lady!” Then he countered that with what he actually does as a librarian. Teaching, research assistance, planning and hosting events, 3D Printing, buying, managing, organizing, etc. On that list were 2 things that really caught the students’ attentions. 3D Printing and Events. The students got to select an object to print, and then they helped with some event planning.
"And that’s where we had some more interactive fun… I mentioned about hosting a Nerf tag event and that I needed to check to see if all of the library’s Nerf equipment was still in good working order. I asked: Would you like to help me test of out the Nerf tag equipment? A resounding “YES!” So we had a few moments of Nerf tag in the classroom" (Hardenbrook, 2016, Events section).
Simply put, technology in a library is a good thing. It isn’t going to drive out the need for libraries, it isn’t going to replace them; it is there to enhance the experience. Both from a staff standpoint and a guest standpoint: the more updated, advanced, and publicly available a libraries technology is, the more relevant the library is to the surrounding community. What better way to serve a community or college, or even public school system, than to be a “library that focuses on providing the space, equipment, and services that enable the community to create information, knowledge, entertainment, and art?” (Matthews, 2013) And what is the gateway to becoming that? Technology.