How to reinvent brick-and-mortar libraries for the e-book era—when you can download library books at home?
For clues, we might look to Vancouver. Planners want to leverage the library’s role as a public gathering space. The renovation includes a rooftop garden, reading lounges, a bunch of other terraces, theatres and so on. But check out this intriguing tidbit from the director of library experience, as shared with 24 hours Vancouver: “We’re looking to have exhibit space both for physical and digital. We will curate and work with community partners and groups to tie it in with storytelling, author readings, poetry, and music, because there is a theatre in that space.”
A digital exhibit space! What could that mean? It’s something I had never thought about. So many book exhibits I’ve seen have focused on showcasing the visual aspects of a paper book: antique first editions, books with lavish illustrations and so on. What will we replace this with in an increasingly digital world? My first thought was that the digital exhibits would relate to the Vancouver Archive, which they are moving to this new library building to make it more transit-accessible. But they specifically mention story-telling and author readings and so on. So perhaps they will be using video displays to showcase author performances? That could be a very intriguing visual component to a growing digital collection.
I have confessed on more than one occasion that I mostly use my public library for e-books now. Still, I think remaking them into more of a community space and less a mere repository for books is the right path forward. I have heard that public libraries run fantastic programs for children, for instance. Now that I am expecting, the library-as-meeting-space concept interests me a lot more than it used to. I have a need to go beyond just books for me, so I will be very curious to check out the other programs my digital-friendly library will be able to offer in person for both me and my child.
If public libraries cut back on books on their shelves, that’s all the more reason for them to step up outreach efforts and modern family-literacy programs and teach the importance of e-book literacy. At the same time, remember that a debate still rages about paper books vs. e-books for the very young, who, like some adults, may want to feel their books. If nothing else, paper books can be gateways to E. With all the unknowns, let’s hope that libraries will not cast away paper books for toddlers, not until we know a lot more. I’m encouraged by the comments of the library experience director in Vancouver—the promise to have space for the physical as well as the digital. – D.R.