The Renewing library – the library in the new information era
The relevance of the public library in the future has constantly been in the focus of the librarian world. On the one hand, many studies proved the important contribution of the library to the community in which it is placed, partly because of its unique features: it is free of charge, regardless of class, and democratic, it dispels loneliness and is knowledge-intensive. In the Western world public libraries have always been considered one of the major institutions in the city. In European and US cities libraries play a central role in urban planning, reflecting the importance of the library as a center of knowledge and the its concept as an open space accessible for meeting and recreation.
In the eyes of the public the library is considered an essential part of the way of life. A study of the Pew Institute, published in May 2013, showed that most parents are deeply appreciative of one resource for their children: the library. They see the importance of public libraries in promoting literacy and a love of reading, a source for technical materials, and support the active role of the library in the public life of their communities including free reading programs for children at an early age.
On the other hand, there is an agreement that libraries are losing relevance as a place for storing and loaning books only, and that they should serve more as a source of information, as cultural–social centers that play an essential role in the residents’ leisure time activities, become an effective factor in the community and help in education. It is estimated that in the future public libraries will be far more important as centers for the preservation and dissemination of knowledge and as sophisticated multi- purpose community centers.
And indeed, one of the trends we are witnessing in recent years is the expansion of library functions, with emphasis on the deepening of the library’s involvement in the community. The article: “Rising to the Challenge: Re-Envisioning Public Libraries”, the new report from Aspen Institute, describes the challenges and expectations from the new library:
Public libraries are becoming platforms for learning, creativity and innovation, opening up to new ways and helping communities bridge the economic and social disparities.
The ALA (American Library Association in the United States) annual report of 2014 assigned high priority to the issue of the continued variability of libraries and showed that the changing library is deepening its involvement in the community and handles a variety of areas dealing with social, economic and environmental issues including partnerships with governments and organizations, and responds to a wide range of ongoing and emerging needs.
The upcoming series of articles will review the changes experienced by public libraries – in the educational, social, structural, management and accessibility of information fields, the various and innovative types of information that libraries offer to their users and the expansion of library functions. In addition, we will examine the expected technological innovations in the field and their influence upon librarianship in general and specifically the status of librarians. We will review examples from Israel and abroad and explain the implementation of these solutions in the IDEA Lib system.
And this time: the public library – expanding to become a knowledge and information center for the community.
Evidence from the report of the American Research Institute PEW, based on a survey of 5,000 US citizens, show that Americans especially appreciate the access to materials and resources to promote literacy among their family and their surroundings. Besides the regular usages of the library, for reference, lending of books, etc., there is an increasing trend of residents’ (77% of Americans) perception of the library as the source of access to the Internet and information services in general.
Reliance on information technology such as computers, the Internet and PC-board (tablets), changes the position and perception of the library in the community, from place for reading books, to an information center that provides consulting services and support, allows access to government information, learning about civil rights and obligations and performance of other online interactions such as payments, forms submission and other activities. All of this is done in the library with personal support of the library staff and its capability to find the accurate and precise information in a short time and free of charge.
In the social field there are more initiatives of libraries strengthening ties with the community and the promotion of disadvantaged communities. For example, the “Cedar Rapids Public Library” in Iowa has initiated a community service project of the use of tablets in the library, to encourage reading and use of technologies among disadvantaged populations without access to technological means that are part of the community where the public library is located.
The Public Library of New York runs an educational program that provides academic and social support for disadvantaged and at-risk populations of high school students.
In Israel, there are several examples of public libraries that provide information and support services to residents in addition to the standard library services, such as Herzliya Library, Netanya Library, Library of Rishon Lezion and more. The Herzliya Library maintains an active information center for their public, managed by IDEA Lib system. The database is available online and offers public materials and a wealth of information ((legal, civil, municipal, etc.) which is not part of the traditional library materials, alongside support posts and personalized service provided at the public library.
Another example can be seen in the municipal library of Rishon Lezion, which initiated in 2005 the “Center for Information and Counseling for the residents”, also in the IDEA’s system.
The center operates within the “Kotar Rishon” library as part of the services provided by the library for residents of the city. The center, working in cooperation with the city administration for social integration and the national CCS (Citizens Counseling Service of the Ministry of Social Affairs), provides counseling and assistance free of charge to all residents of the city in a variety of areas. The answers are given by the professional media specialists and 70 volunteers, including experts from various fields, lawyers and law students.
The center complements the information contained in written materials (the books and the Internet) with personal discourse with experts, counseling, guidance and practical assistance.
Since the information center is physically located in the library, surrounded by books and other library services, there is a direct link amongst the services. Residents turning to the library are exposed to the information center and come to clarify things with the consultants. Or alternatively, while waiting at the information center they benefit from the newspapers and magazines area, browsing at books around them and so on.
Among the people applying to the information center are: patrons of the library, people referred by the municipality, associations and organizations, governmental ministries, the national CCS etc.
This trend of perceiving the library as an information center has steadied in recent years. An additional survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2016 , showed that more and more residents go to the library first and foremost for general information needs, easy physical access to commuters and additional information technologies like 3-D printers. The survey showed that patrons of public libraries tend to adopt new technologies faster than others.
Independent search capabilities and the ability to use the Public Library Reference services contribute to a faster adoption of new technologies such as social media, smartphone applications and other advanced technologies.
In the next article, – The change of the library into a cultural center with the variety of activities that take place in it, the budgets directed by the authorities to this matter and the enriching the library’s collections and cultural content for the benefit of residents.