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Public Libraries Use Technology to Redefine Their Purpose

With the digital revolution knocking, libraries are relying on technology to transform how they serve their communities.

What defines a library to you? If it still centers on physical books and the Dewey Decimal System, it’s time for you to refresh and reset your expectations when it comes to what your neighborhood library has to offer.

While reading is still a core offering and mission for public libraries, so is its role as an education and productivity resource, and libraries are turning to technology in increasingly inventive and innovative ways to bolster this reimagined future.

“Libraries in the past have kind of been thought of as these places where you can go and consume books, music, movies, and this trend, I think, going forward is that they're also a place where you can go create something,” said Susan Thaler, deputy director at the Yonkers Public Library outside New York City, in a recent story from The Journal News.

Public Libraries Bring 3D Printers to the Masses

For inventors and creators, 3D printing is poised to bring the golden age of innovation. It’s almost too good to be true: With 3D printers, people can dream, conceptualize, design and actually hold the physical manifestation of their ideas without having to involve a factory in the process.

The Riverfront branch of the Yonkers Public Library has opened what it calls “Tech Central” to offer citizens access to 3D printers, according to the story. The space, which opened in early May, “includes a sound-proof audio-visual recording studio, a maker space with 3D printers and a large computer training room with various types and sizes of printers.”

In the Boston suburb of Medfield, Mass., the public library is using Sprout HP to “allow for patrons to create their own 3D models, creating things like tabletop book holders, action figures, and items that have multiple, moving parts,” according to Hometown Weekly.

A thousand miles to the west at the DeKalb Public Library in DeKalb, Ill., community leaders are eying MakerBot 3D printers as part of a larger modernization project, according to a story StateTech reported on last month.

In the future, it’s a good bet that people will be just as likely to visit a library to print out their experimental prototypes or glasses frames as they are to check out their favorite book.

Leading the Charge for Library Innovation

One of the leading libraries embracing the innovation revolution is the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in the nation’s capital. The city’s central branch has what staffers have dubbed a “Fab Lab,” complete with 3D printers and laser cutters, and will soon undergo a two-year modernization makeover that will furnish the building, which opened in 1972, with 21st-century upgrades.

Richard Reyes-Gavilan, executive director of the D.C. Public Library system, recently spoke with The Washington Post about how he envisions technology’s role in revitalizing the library.

He wants to put the D.C. Public Library at the forefront of American libraries, to be a model for the nation by embracing a “hacker” culture that treats library patrons not as passive consumers of information, but as creators. His mantra is “libraries are not their buildings,” but “engines of human capital.”

As public libraries face the sort of transformation that is sweeping nearly every aspect of public life, those leaders who embrace a new definition of library seem most poised to successfully step into the digital age.

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May 27 2016

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