Thursday, January 14, 2010

Marian, Madame Librarian

My son is currently performing in the Children's Theatre of Annapolis production of the Meredith Wilson musical The Music Man, and Nick and I are working tech for the show. Today, we did two school shows; several schools brought students in on busses to see the show. As the curtain opened on the library scene for the song, "Marian the Librarian," it occurred to me that although the musical was written in the 1950s, and set in 1912, the set would be instantly recognizable to the kids in the audience as a library. The shelves with books, the checkout desk, the tables for reading: all these things look pretty much like a library today, with only the notable absence of computers and videos as the primary difference. (Although the sets were created by modern people, who may have brought 2009/2010 sensibility to their creation, presumably they were created with an eye towards authenticity.)

That then started me thinking, will kids 20 years from now be able to recognize it as a library as easily? What will a library look like 20 years from now? Will it even have shelves of books? (I personally think it will, although if current trends are any indication, the section of the library devoted to shelves of books may shrink).

Will it have a checkout desk? It actually may not. My library already has self-checkout, and my grocery store allows me to pick up a scanner at the entry and scan and bag my groceries as I move through the store. It's not hard to imagine that in 20 years, or even much less, libraries will have some kind of auto-checkout that will take place when you walk out the door, using RFID codes in the books and in your library card.

Will the library of the future have tables and chairs for sitting? I think it probably will. I like to think that the library of the future will still be a gathering place and a study place and a research place, and maybe even a reading place, all of which are activities that encourage the use of tables and chairs.

What about you? What do you think the library of the future will look like?


J. L. Bell said...

The legacy aspect of libraries—the physical books—will need pretty much the same infrastructure. But as books and information storage in general become less physical and more digital, we'll be asking the question of what the advantage of a physical library is. There won't be a need to go a particular place for downloads or browsing.

Computers? Comfy chairs? Got those at home. Place to meet people? Well, through the computer and phone I have those as well, but in person—that will be the library's raison d'être. So to bring this back to The Music Man, the library won't be a place of silence but a place meant for conversation.

Anonymous said...

I hope that libraries will survive as public spaces but I think that our facilities will need to join with recreation centers, and other public spaces that allow more activity and conversation than the traditional library space does currently. Our newest library was designed in the old way - no private space, no comfortable teen area. The only space that works well is our preschool section where we have toys as well as books: parents and children spend time enjoying the facility, and meeting each other.

Unknown said...

Good points. It's actually a good question to consider whether or not there even will be libraries in the future. I hope that there will; libraries have always been special places in my life, and I hope that they'll always exist in some form. But maybe I'm just being old-fashioned.

I like the image of the library as a gathering place. As our lives become increasingly digital, maybe we will need places we can go to find real human contact. The libraries in my area have already moved towards being a community center of sorts: they have meeting rooms and offer classes, for example. The library my mom worked at is right next to a high school, and a lot of the students come to the library to hang out after school.

However I hope that libraries can continue to keep a knowledge/learning/literacy connection, and not become "just" a community center. I frankly think that the knowledgeable librarians are one of the best resources in the library. Sure, you can find answers to many questions instantly on the Internet, but librarians offer something that the internet doesn't, at least not yet: they have the ability to try to understand what you're really looking for, which is sometimes not what you're actually asking, and they are familiar with a wide variety of resources that can help. I've had a few times when librarians really went out of their way to help me find information that I couldn't have found on my own.

And, of course, I hope that the library will still have at least some books in the future!

MotherReader said...

Great job for you son being in a performance - and a nod to you for supporting the show as crew.

As for the library of tomorrow, I can only say what budget cuts are doing to the library of today. The next set of cuts at our not-poor library system are targeted at the professional staff, with the idea that anyone can point out where a book is. Self-checkout is already a big part of the system, as is self-signup for computers. I'm not sure that books will disappear from libraries, but librarians sure will.

Unknown said...

That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard, MotherReader. Sure, anyone can point out where a book is, but it's knowing which book to point out that makes librarians indispensable. And that's only a small part of what librarians do. For example, I think that most people don't realize the importance of the reference interview as a part of what librarians do, and that's something that takes a lot of training, and computers just can't do, at least not yet.

NeverFlyte said...

I wrote a story on this awhile ago. "A One and Only Perfect Life" is what its called, my earliest post on the blog. It's not very long, but has alot of similar ideas to this.

Unknown said...

Wow, NeverFlyte, you did say exactly the same thing about community and libraries in your story! Great story. Thanks for sharing!

BookMoot said...

I know the library near my house is busier than ever. People are there reading newspapers, using the computers, and visiting.

My use tends to be run in and pick up the materials I requested from home from my comfy chair, on my computer. I can self-check out which speeds me on my way, but I miss talking to the circulation person who has a son who is the same age as one of my daughters. We would use my checkout time to catch up. I do get delayed when I see people I know, former students of mine or other friends and acquaintances.

After school the place is always full with kids from the junior high school across the street, so full in fact that the library has turned the community meeting room over to them for the after school hours. Like so many libraries, it functions as after school teen daycare.

If everyone is going to be reading books on kindles or downloading them from Overdrive, I do wonder about the stacks. Will our community become even more virtual?

Marge Loch-Wouters said...

I am reading This Book is Overdue: How Librarians and Cybrarians Will Save Us All by Marilyn Johnson and it has some great stuff about what librarians really do to get information and fabulous books into the hands of the public and how vital the profession will remain in the future. Librarians for sure do more than just point out books...we select and purchase the materials; connect the right book to the right person because of our knowledge base and can quickly use our amazing detective skills to ferret out information that is accurate.

Unknown said...

That sounds like an interesting book, Marge. Thanks for the recommendation. Librarians rock, and it makes me sad that some politicians and administrators don't realize what a crucial role they play.