Moderator Nate Hill is a blogger for the Public Library Association
and a librarian for the Brooklyn Public Library. The Brooklyn library system has 58 very diverse branches, many in the wrong place. New communities have grown quickly in New York, finding themselves under-served by the library. He has been tossing around an idea for library outposts
, small storefront sized branches with no local collection—only request pickup.
Panelists Sarah Murphy and Maria Falgoust are school librarians and founders of the Desk Set
, a librarian social group that holds fund raisers, community events, and raises general awareness of biblioissues. Their upcoming Mardi Gras fundraiser is a book drive for A.P. Tureaud Elementary in New Orleans.
Jim Pecora rounded out the panel as Chief Technology Officer for the Philadelphia Free Library
, overseeing all things technology, also acting as liaison for the ongoing main branch addition and other renovation projects. He started his career as a social worker and community organizer.
A brief survey of the library's various hats:
- access point for information
- quiet space
- social institution / place for social work
- learning / research facility
- collaborative space
- archive for rare / obsolete objects
- romantic symbol of the larger pursuit of human advancement
A quick list of areas for improvement / areas of frustration:
- budget is always an issue
- vendor relationships with limited digital tools, don't have the accessibility of a Facebook or Google
- privacy—lending records are deleted after books are returned, limitations to sharing information
- brick and mortar buildings cannot be moved as populations migrate, interior spaces in old buildings are less than flexible to ad hoc needs
- libraries serve demographics in vastly different ways (from job search and other internet access for the underprivileged to online access to research material for the higher ed set)
- and a million other issues experienced by large public institutions
Technology could help extend the library's function with a user contributed recommendation system, with digital marginalia, with decentralizing the categorization process, and so forth. These things have already begun in parallel media (netflix, amazon, ebay, everything ever), and are starting to happen with worldcat
Forward thinking architecture can produce modern libraries with the flexibility to cater to such diverse communities. The Seattle public library central branch
(OMA Rem Koolhaas) has a stacks-on-rails system to expand as more books enter their collection. Its functions as a community space, coffee depot, teen center, Nate mentioned there were talks of incorporating a hospital.
However, not every city has five hundred million left over dollars. Not everyone lives in a city. The aforementioned outpost proposal is an agile solution to serve sub communities. MoMA only displays ten or something percent of its collection, the rest is stored in warehouses in Queens. As information becomes more accessible digitally (ethereally), there still remains a need for public meeting space. The grand central library provides the romantic aura for the system, but the worker bee branches serve an invaluable function.
A million other great points were made and we are overwhelmingly excited by the interest showed. We hope this conversation continues, with fast/cheap/effective solutions coming out of the woodwork. There was interest in having the Free Library host a Junto at the main branch. We will keep you posted.