Sunday, February 14, 2016

A valentine to the 20th century library

They’re shifting from books to technology; from book learning to hands-on learning; from individual pursuits to group activities; from knowledge acquisition to broader life skills—all for the sake of the 21st Century. No, I’m not talking about schools; I’m talking about libraries.

According to an article in Education World, libraries

are increasingly developing their own makerspaces, or areas designated for students to build and create. More and more frequently, libraries are investing in 3D printers and similar advanced technology that can help students engage each other through activities rooted in innovation.
According to EdTech Magazine, the increase of makerspaces in libraries is helping the library fit into the modern world. "While the value of time spent tinkering may not be immediately apparent to some, makerspace proponents say hands-on work helps students hone their critical-thinking and problem-solving abilities, all while encouraging them to collaborate with peers. With those competencies in their toolkit, students can more easily navigate the STEM education network and, eventually, the workplace,” EdTech Magazine says.
Nor do the similarities end here. Like schools, library are also assuming a broader social mission
Stroll onto the Waukegan Public Library's airy main floor and you'll see gaggles of people entranced at banks of computers or getting counseled for the Affordable Care Act enrollment process. Kids are upstairs on overstuffed chairs looking through graphic novels or playing make-believe in the children's resource room. And homeless people are warming their bones on a day when the mercury might not get above 2 degrees.
The books are, effectively, beside the point at an institution where the mission isn't merely to promote literacy, but to improve lives. "Demographics are shifting, and the perception of the library is shifting — if we don't shift along with it, we're at risk of no longer being relevant," said Carmen Patlan, the Waukegan library's community engagement manager. "As books and readers go online, people wonder if libraries will still exist. What will they be for?  
For me, the library is a (mostly) quiet place to get work done during my daughter’s art classes. Those at nearby tables appear to be using the library in a similar way, or to read library books or to listen to library music CDs (with head phones). But is all that really “relevant”?

According to one news source:
Those who run, study and design libraries said the buildings have kept their relevance by being places for people to meet, take part in programs and learn how to use the electronic devices that access the Internet.

Maybe few of us read books these days, and even fewer of us get the books we read from libraries. But there are still some people out there who relish the relative quiet of libraries—or at least of those sections of libraries that haven’t yet succumbed to the 21t century.


Niels Henrik Abel said...

Boy, do I hear you. I visit our local library on a weekly basis, and every time I go there I feel like I'm visiting the zoo - for all the reasons you mentioned, and more. We even get the unmitigated "joy" of listening to interruptions over the PA for this or that family literacy blah blah blah, etc. in English AND Spanish. There were the Obamacare navigators pushing their thing, last year there were volunteers providing free tax assistance (for some reason that was axed for this year), there are the homeless who hang out in the library and/or cafe (yes, the library has a cafe, too, owned/operated by a private contractor) in lieu of a warming shelter, and on and on....

Whether these things are useful or not is not the question, I believe. We could argue about that all day long. But when I look at the line item on my property tax bill, it says "library" and not "community center." It's called "mission drift," and I don't think it's right to take public monies under one set of assumptions and devote them to other purposes.

Anonymous said...

I find this so sad. The library at the school where I work is more of a social lounge than an old-fashioned library. Kids lounge about and make a ton of noise, as they watch movies on their laptops and chat with each other. Very few kids read any of the books there, and I almost never see kids browsing the stacks.
I've always loved libraries precisely because they are quiet, peaceful places where I can read, write, and think, but I think my kind of library is becoming an endangered species. I think that the price of living in the 21st century is a high one: we give up quiet contemplation, we give up books, and we give up solitude. Instead we get constant group activities, distracting social media, and collaborative maker movements.

Anonymous said...

JPublic schools are outstanding examples of mission creep - far too much time and effort is being spent on non-academic stuff - and it isn't as if they are doing such a good job on academics that they should be taking on other stuff. I have no problem with communities using school facilities for other things - the facilities are there and it is efficient to maximize their usage - but school staff should not be involved. Schools should be academic only. Yes, I am excluding all non-academic extracurriculars, too; even sports (maybe especially sports), band etc. I consider debate, math team, literary mag/school paper to be academics.

Anonymous said...

It's bad enough they have ruined government schooling with "21st Century skills", or whatever that means. Now they are going after the libraries. Our local library, which I go to practically everyday, has a new section for 3D printing, and recording. I do not know what to make of it. When I am at the library I am there to read the paper, magazines, find and read books in a quiet comfortable environment. I have no problem with having computers for internet access. In fact, when my laptop was in the shop for repair, I used the computers to print out documents for my Toastmaster group for when I was club secretary. I just find that things have been taken over by fads.

Bookish Babe