Notes from IHA

Notes from IHA

An article by Katharine Q. Seelye from the New York Times, March 7, 2014, “Breaking Out of the Library Mold, in Boston and Beyond,” starts out this way: “BOSTON — An old joke about libraries goes like this: A boy walks into a library and asks for a burger and fries. ‘Young man!’ the startled librarian reprimands. ‘You are in a library.’ So the boy repeats his order, only this time, he whispers.” The article describes how drastically things have changed in libraries, observing, “Many libraries have become bustling community centers where talking out loud and even eating are perfectly acceptable.”

Renovations at the Boston Public Library, which was founded in 1848 and is the oldest public urban library in the country, are a part of the movement Seelye mentions, especially with new facilities designed for teenagers. The teen space in Boston will include lounges, restaurant booths, game rooms, and digital labs, as well as software and equipment to record music and create comic books.

Libraries across the county have adopted innovative ideas to attract visitors. Seelye notes that the Chicago Public Library offers “a free Maker Lab, with access to 3-D printers, laser cutters and milling machines. The Lopez Island Library in Washington State offers musical instruments for checkout. In upstate New York, the Library Farm in Cicero, part of the Northern Onondaga Public Library, lends out plots of land on which patrons can learn organic growing practices.”

Seelye adds, “At least the Boston library will still feature books. One library, in San Antonio, has done away with them. The BiblioTech is nothing but rows of computers, e-readers, and an ‘iPad bar.’”

Libraries were quick to realize that technology was changing their traditional roles, and they became information centers. Now, they are responding to new trends and reaching out to entice patrons to their facilities. But as the Times article notes, people do not always embrace new technology. It says, “While e-books are gaining popularity, print is still king. In 2012, 28 percent of adults nationwide read an e-book, according to the Pew Research Center, while 69 percent read a print book. Only 4 percent of readers are ‘e-book only,’ the center reported.”

Libraries, museums, historic sites, and other cultural institutions are finding that the key to surviving and flourishing lies in understanding the contemporary needs of their patrons and finding ways to offer services that are desired, even if they don’t fit traditional concepts.  The IHA strives to keep its members up to date about the latest trends through the printed and electronic newsletters, technical inserts, and website.