Can Digital Libraries Help To Improve Communities In The 21st Century?

Nowadays, most of us have realised that public libraries no longer solely deal with books, or e-books for that matter. Most community libraries are now getting advanced digital age makeovers in order to cater to the 21st century readers. Various digital technologies are being introduced in libraries across the nation, including maker spaces, video production suites and even 3D printers to invite innovation and creativity.

Re-Imagining Public Libraries

However, a recently report published by the Aspen Institute Dialogue on Public Libraries, entitled “Rising to the Challenge: Re-Envisioning Public Libraries”, is requesting us to re-evaluate how libraries can better serve our communities in this century. The study desires to “capture the momentum and excitement of the innovations taking place in public libraries across the country, and the impact these are having on communities,” according to Amy Garmer, director of the group. The study asks, with all this latest technology and improved networks, how else can libraries be enhanced beyond present advancements?

The Aspen Institute Dialogue on Public Libraries group receives support from the Global Libraries Program of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It comprises of 34 library field leaders, government officials, business executives, academic experts and visionaries of community development. The group is focused on doing more than just promoting great instances of libraries operating effectively in the digital age.

Garmer said “We want to provide a catalyst for new thinking about libraries as platforms for learning, creativity and innovation in their communities, and the creation of new networked forms of libraries.” According to her, if the study can boost engagement at the regional, state and national levels to reconsider how to utilise libraries and act constructively afterwards, then the Dialogue on Public Libraries group will be able to accomplish it’s goals.

Reinventing Roles Of Libraries

Chattanooga and Nashville are 2 cities in Tennessee state that were featured in the report as they boldly for their bold reimagined and reinvented the roles of a library. Moreover, the communities have also given overwhelmingly positive responses to the changes. After Corinne Hill was appointed as the executive director at the Chattanooga Public Library back in 2012, the city received a distressing report on the current condition of its library. Hill said, “It was a really bad report. The consultant came in and basically said the system was broken.” She said the library required to be rebuilt from scratch; and as the board was ready to take the right steps, Hill saw an opportunity.

Hill realised she could achieve something great by using the one-gigabit-per-second Internet speed as a municipal utility that was offered by Chattanooga, a new “GigCity”. She said, “Having that kind of speed in a library is crazy-ridiculous-amazing.” She decided to use the operating budget of the library and other grants to transform the library by installing infrastructure that could deal with the highest speed Internet.

Hill added “Giving people access in a public space is a great use of tax dollars. We’re not really expanding the role of libraries. It’s doing what we’ve always done, we’re just using different stuff. We are a place for the curious, for creativity, a place for learning, a place to experiment. It’s always been the mission of the library. We’re just using different tools.”

What do you think about the changing roles of libraries? Add to the discussion by sharing your opinions and thoughts.

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