by Katherine Ely
Look out! Whether you like it or not, technology has taken over… and it is persistent and pervasive! As a society, we have become addicted to the instant gratification that technology, particularly the internet, provides. Many modern individuals seek consistent internet access, even opting to double their monthly cell phone bill for ubiquitous connectivity.
However, as with any sweeping social movement, there are those who resist and defy, against all odds. These individuals are the romantics who cling to the beauty and simplicity of past tradition. ‘With change comes complication and excess!’ they cry out. To them, my financier brother would taunt, “If you don’t like change, you’ll like irrelevance even less.” Ouch.
This dichotomy of opinion is alive and well pertaining to the question: How do libraries fit into modern society? After researching current academic facilities and interviewing the most librophillic (library loving) of librarians, I have found the answer: They don’t.
At least not as they have historically existed.
Libraries of the past typically evoke feelings of grandeur. Monumental facades, high ceilings, and large open spaces create a sense of wonder. The beauty, and of course the scent, of old books are quite alluring, even to those who do not consider themselves to be intellectual. Despite the wonderful fantasy of exploring all the history and knowledge housed in these stoic monuments, comes the sad truth: The accessibility and speed of the internet win out over romanticism.
And so it is the task of both the techies and the traditionalists to create the culturally, historically and educationally important library of the future.
With this mission in mind, I set out to investigate my neighborhood library: the Richmond Branch of the San Francisco Public Library. Having finished renovation in 2009, the old yet dignified original structure stands, with a few modern additions. These include two side wings, and an intriguing glass supplement at the back of the building. The Richmond Branch is a simple, yet striking, synthesis of classic and modern.
Once inside, I was astounded by the number of people populating the library. However, what I was more taken by was the concentration of people using computers. Outlined by stacks of books, the library leaves long, open space in the center for computer and technology users. While there was not a space left at the tech tables, the book shelves remained empty.
The head librarian at the Richmond Branch saw the building undergo renovation, sharing with me that while many parts of the renovation functioned to meet city codes, others were necessities for keeping the library relevant in today’s world. Materials such as additional computers, wi-fi, and media centers brimming with DVDs and audio books have been the key to maintaining this charming neighborhood gem. According to my new friend, maintaining the warm physical appeal that conventional readers find comforting, while providing the modern amenities that 21st century learners crave, is what preserves the library. At least for now…
The future seems to consistently demand all things bigger, better, faster. Concurrently, the academic world steadily shifts away from individual work towards innovation inspired by group collaboration. With this in mind, academic libraries in particular will need to make spatial accommodations for group study and other collaborative activities, providing technology and work space, while retaining the serenity and hardcopies of the time-honored library.
By now you may be feeling discouraged about the future prospects of the beloved library. But fear not! A compromise of the memorable and the hi-tech is possible. And necessary. For example, epic, vintage exterior structures and facades and comforting, book-laden innards could be combined with an astounding, near-future amenity: electronic ready Corning glass. Corning is developing thin, durable glass that, when fashioned into walls and tabletops, can act as an interactive touch display for learning and collaborative work. And the applications don’t end there… Windows, solar panels, and dashboards. Oh my!
I may have just gone from Corning to corny.
As these fancy displays, powered by tablets and mobile devices, become mass produced and more affordable, they have the plausibility of adding fun and innovation to the already beautiful, traditional setting of libraries.
Ultimately, future libraries need to be seen as cultural houses, which stimulate intellectual curiosity and foster academic growth. Their history should be respected and maintained, but the future of technology must not be ignored. Successful libraries will promote scholarship and the learning experience by providing an array of settings and resources. As long as this goal is achieved, there are countless possibilities for the future of libraries.
For more information on the stunning innovations of Corning Glass: