The 21st century library is going to develop locally. Gone are the days of the Carnegie Library clones appearing everywhere.
In this century, as mandated by the ALA (The American Library Association), each library should be as unique as the individual place where it develops. What defines a 21st century library are these three things: what the community wants, what the community needs, and a vision for the future.
Discovering what the community wants, in general is very easy. There was a survey conducted where respondents (90 percent or more) said that a Long Beach Main Library is very important to the city. But how should that library appear? The people at the Pew Research Center completed an in-depth survey into libraries and what people want. What this survey divulged is useful, but what makes it very important is that it breaks down every demographic’s responses, including the results of focus groups of end users.
Long Beach has a population that is not only diverse, but contains a majority race of hispanics (at 41 percent), with African Americans at about 14 percent. Together, they make up 55 percent.
Why is this important? Because these two groups were very adamant that the library was not just a wanted part of their city, but a needed resource in their lives. In fact, these two groups responded to most every library importance question, at or above 80 percent, with the balance demographics at 60-70 percent (depending on the question).
With this research, we know we are setting about to build a place that 55 percent believe is a critical resource in their current lives, future dreams and to their children.
Couple that with results that showed that lower income people are also highly dependent on these services, one can see that a new library has an opportunity to be much more that a book museum. A 21st Century library in Long Beach represents access—access to the American Dream.
Many respondents have no clear path to achieve their dreams for their families. They have no historical precedence, such as a wealthy/successful parent. They may not even own a computer of their own. They also may not know how to find out the information they require to realize their dreams, and the dreams of their children. This new Long Beach Library can, and should provide that access.
Looking into the future, the research informed us that millennials (28 and younger) are reading more books than any other demographic. And it tells us that they want spaces to be specific, interactive and dynamic. Millennials want a library that speaks to them, and that responds to their drive to have an experience. Perhaps being raised with video games in which you can literally be in the game and not just play it, has something to do with this.
Socially, the Pew research showed us that Americans prefer separate spaces in our libraries, and not an open plan (68 percent), which is now very popular in Europe. It also showed us that many people take their families to the library as an outing, a day trip experience for the family. A safe, free and informative place of educational entertainment.
Summarizing all of this data into a useful conclusion, one possibility appears: A magnetic, vibrant, interactive place of experience.
A solution is a library/community center that is segregated by topic, similar to a bookstore (this approach leads to 30 percent more readership and lending), but with a twist. Placed around these focused library areas are adjacent spaces where you can take what you’ve read and place it into practice (learning by doing has proven to be at least twice as effective as just reading alone).
Maker spaces, equipped with software and 3D printers, placed adjacent to how-to books. Creative spaces, with art and art history, surrounded by art studio spaces, scrapbooking areas, and YouTube video-making rooms. There is no end to what could be tried and developed.
Corporate sponsorship of floors would help pay for the libraries supplies and equipment.
For example: Apple could support a technology center, along with Apple store-type training classes on equipment as soon as it comes out. Apple could provide the computers on one floor and continuously swap them out, to the latest technology, giving their clients a place where they could go to try out any new technology, for free at their leisure. Once one corporation signed up to support access to the American Dream, who would not want to be a part of this heroic endeavor?
A library of the 21st century would be a place where the needs of the community are met, the wants of the next generation are engaged, and the community as whole is enriched. An access point to the American Dream, a realized community magnet; engaging, enticing and enriching.
Eric Wynkoop is a California building designer, and can be reached at [email protected].
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