How Are Public Libraries Changing?

BostonPublicLibrary

Appearing March 7th in The New York Times, Katharine Q. Seelye’s article “Breaking Out of the Library Mold, in Boston and Beyond” (available here) examines how renovations of large, public libraries exemplify how the roles of public libraries and public librarians have drastically changed. Public libraries are moving far away from being dusty book repositories, and toward being airy, open social centers designed with the omnipresence of electronic devices in mind. And, as this role-shifting and repurposing has occurred, public library usage is spiking upward across the county; Boston’s central library alone saw an increase of nearly 500,000 physical visits in 2013.

As public libraries have begun to change their space, they have also begun to change the services they offer. The new library emphasizes creativity over supplying information: Seelye gives examples of libraries that provide 3-D printers to use, check-out musical instruments, and lend land for organic farming practices—post-renovation Boston’s public library will have space for music recording and comic book creation.

So, let’s transition over to law libraries: are there lessons here that we should be incorporating into our profession? Importantly, in changing their spaces, public libraries were able to change both the services they can offer and how they are perceived—public libraries needed to remove themselves from the antiquated image of being “the place where the books are”, to being a social, creative space. Do equivalent actions need to take place in the strictly law librarian sphere—and if so, what are the equivalent actions?

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