Instead of encountering white-haired ladies telling patrons to “shhh!”, visitors to a modern library these days are more likely to find kids playing Wii or surfing the web. Rather than remain closed chambers of stacks of old books, libraries today are reinventing themselves to adapt to the needs of a wired generation born with digital DNA. In some cases, the library has emerged as a friendlier alternative for middle and high-school kids to hang out after school than say the mall or Starbucks. While many coffee shops offer free wi-fi, many libraries go far beyond that, as this article in the Madison Capital Times explains:
Information still is central to libraries, but what has changed are the forms it takes and how it’s accessed. Books, newspapers and magazines are as plentiful as ever, but today’s libraries also typically offer as many computers as their infrastructure and space can handle, free wireless Internet access, and items such as e-books, DVDs and compact discs. But for many, it’s all about the Internet, which has turned out to be a boon for libraries. While most people surf online at home, others don’t have Internet access or have clunky dial-up access. Serving that population is part of a library’s critical public mission, library officials said. Even those with broadband at home visit libraries for access to databases that individuals either can’t get, or would have to pay for to access from home.
By hosting gaming events aimed at tweens and teens, libraries are positioning themselves as the ideal after-school program, where kids can go and have some fun, and then get some homework done as well. Statistics collected by the American Library Association indicate that three quarters of teens who come for a gaming event return to the library for something else. (Maybe, say, a book?) It’s all about adapting to your customer. Some libraries are even starting to lend Kindles to their patrons.
Reaching out to low income families can play a key role in the battle of declining literacy skills:
That can be particularly crucial in a neighborhood like the north side, where Lakeview is located, and where there is a significant population of low-income families who struggle to afford necessities, much less electronic games and Internet access. “We had a social services group bring a group of 35 kids to (Lakeview) for gaming and they couldn’t wait to come back,” Dimick said. “These kids wouldn’t have access any other way. And when they’re there they may trip over something else.”
Maybe the new libraies should be laid out with the high-tech stuff at the back, requiring users to pass through the stacks to get to the games, to take advantage of the “stumble-upon” effect. Or maybe a program like, check out 5 books, and you get to borrow a game as well. Challenging times call for creative thinking.