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5 Bright Ideas for the Libraries of the Future

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5 Bright Ideas for the Libraries of the Future

Libraries must innovate before they lose a generation of digital natives.

posted February 13, 2013

Public libraries are facing a tough challenge right now. People read fewer physical books — long the staple of libraries — but they still rely on the library for information. Paul Vogel, president of digital solutions for the United States Postal Service, recently said that the USPS is in the message business, not the mail business. Following that train of thought, libraries are in the information business, not the book business. Citizens have always gone to libraries for information, and, historically, information has come from books. But that process is changing, and to keep up, libraries will need to supply information in different formats and on different platforms to make it accessible to their users.

Of course, it’s not just about turning print books into digital content. People need to be able to search for resources from mobile devices and from locations other than a library. Luckily, the costs of the technology that could power such services are coming down; but if libraries don’t act quickly, they could lose a generation of digital natives that expect information to be accessible when and where they want it.

Pew Internet recently published Library Services in the Digital Age, a survey in which participants were asked what they wanted to see in the libraries of the future. Here are a few of the ideas that people responded to positively:

  • Apps-based access to library materials and programs: 35 percent of Americans ages 16 and older would “very likely” use that service, and another 28 percent say they would be “somewhat likely” to do so.
  • Access to technology “petting zoos” to try out new devices: 35 percent of Americans ages 16 and older would “very likely” use that service, and another 34 percent say they would be “somewhat likely” to do so.
  • GPS-navigation apps to help patrons locate material inside library buildings: 34 percent of Americans ages 16 and older would “very likely” use that service, and another 28 percent say they would be “somewhat likely” to do so.
  • “Redbox”-style lending machines or kiosks located throughout the community, where people can check out books, movies or music without having to go to the library itself: 33 percent of Americans ages 16 and older would “very likely” use that service, and another 30 percent say they would be “somewhat likely” to do so.
  • “Amazon”-style customized book/audio/video recommendation schemes that are based on patrons’ prior library behavior: 29 percent of Americans ages 16 and older would “very likely” use that service, and another 35 percent say they would be “somewhat likely” to do so.

Read Library Services in the Digital Age on Pew Internet.

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