Libraries are named for the books they contain, but the rise of digital information is reducing demand for books. Libraries are shifting their focus and offerings so they can continue to remain relevant in the modern day. Let’s look at three ways technology is transforming libraries forever.
Ensuring Universal Access to Information
Libraries remain information repositories, and their continued use as such remains critical in ensuring that there is not a “knowledge divide”. A quarter of homes lack fast internet service, which puts these citizens at a severe disadvantage. This is why libraries offer so many computers to the general public, so that everyone has access to the internet, as well as the library’s own information resources, like downloadable eBooks and subscription digital content.
This places a number of demands on librarians. Unless you completed an online master of information program rather than the classic master’s degree in library science, you may not have the expertise to handle digital subscription management, access control limits on juvenile accounts, digital content checkouts and account problems. And that is aside from the standard tech support that comes up when computers fail their updates or software patches go haywire.
Libraries were set up to disseminate knowledge for the betterment of humanity. This remains the core focus of libraries, even as the method of information sharing has changed. This means libraries continue to offer English classes, literacy training and job skills courses. But to meet the needs of a digital future, it has become increasingly common to find digital classrooms where residents can take computer literacy classes on everything from searching the internet 101 to basic Microsoft Office to more advanced computer classes.
Librarians are thus increasing called upon to be computer literacy trainers. A degree like the master of information program prepares you for a role like this, as well as facilitating patrons taking online classes through the library’s system.
In the 1800s, there were mechanics libraries full of tools and experts to teach how-to skills that couldn’t be taught by reading books. Maker Spaces of today are a return to that mechanic’s library. Maker spaces in libraries tend to cater to a broad spectrum, so young adults clustered around the 3D printer on one side of the makerspace share the room with older women working on quilting machines and other sewing equipment that they may not otherwise be able to afford. Robotic Lego sets are a popular addition to maker spaces, used to teach programming and other STEM skills to the next generation.
Librarians are no longer asked to simply order books and track them as they are checked in and out. They are asked to provide a public space to ensure universal access to information, teach others how to use the internet and the mission critical software that has become part of the common knowledge core a productive citizen needs to know how to use, maintain digital information resources, convert print resources to digital formats accessible to all, and manage real world educational resources like 3D printers so that people can learn how to use them. These are exciting times for librarians!