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Libraries Look To The Future

Alex Prolmos via Flickr/CC

We look at how digital technology is challenging public libraries to redefine their role in the 21st century. While many still enjoy borrowing books, libraries are using social media and digital technology to expand their programs and establish themselves as vibrant community spaces.  In rural New Hampshire, they also provide vital access to technology for residents.





  • Jeffrey Hoover - Library Design Director with Tappe Architects. 
  • Amy Lappin - Deputy director of Lebanon Public Libraries. 
  • Michael York - NH State Librarian.

As N.H. state librarian Michael York describes it, even as libraries are adapting to the digital era, they remain the center of communities in New Hampshire.
"Ask almost anybody in the town, where’s the library, and they’ll be able to tell you. And very often they’ll be able to tell you a lot about the library," York said on The Exchange

We should not become book museums. That’s not our role and we need to be careful about becoming book museums. We need to protect those valuable materials that we have that are old – charters from the towns – all of those things need to be protected. But we can’t become book museums. We have to be a vibrant organization within the communities. -- Michael York

How do you feel about moving books to other locations to free up more space for tech centers, meeting rooms, cultural events?

YORK:  Candidly, the publishers are going to determine the format these things take. Everything is born digital so they can make a digital copy or print a copy. It’s a lot more expensive to print it. We’ll still  have that love affair with the book because it’s been with us in the current form since Gutenberg first invented movable type in  1453.  

Libraries aren’t going away; we have new libraries in many communities in New Hampshire. And there are a lot of communities right now planning on new libraries.

We get a lot of accusations that we’re a glorified video store simply because we have DVDs in our collection. I just feel like we’re in the crux moment where our biggest issue needs to be changing the way people think about the library -- that we’re not just a place for books any more, that we’re a community center that’s trying to get people into the digital age -- Adam, Chairman of the Board of Library Trustees in Grafton.


AMY LAPPIN:  We still do reference. I do reference on the phone. People will call me up and ask me what the weather will be tomorrow, believe it or not.  But that’s somebody who doesn’t have that capability in their home for whatever reason. Or someone brought a bug to me and said I found this in my garden, what is this bug? So we’re still doing the traditional services.

JEFFREY HOOVER: To make the library a destination place, it means a transition from a book-centric place to a people-centric place that provides quality of space....I mean there’s a quality of space that’s enticing to people, space that hosts conversation, supports collaboration, space you can use to have moments of focused concentration. The library of the future is a place to find, use, and share information.

YORK:  The challenge for library is how do we set a course that’s going to get to as much of the population as we can. We realize that all people are not going to use the library and you can drive yourself crazy by trying to get everybody in the town to use the library. That's not going to happen. Some people are not interested. Some think it’s not a good use of taxpayer money. But we have to chart a course because there are enough people who think the library is important.

There's a greater emphasis on programming.  We need to understand there’s more that the library can offer. 

Libraries have played a leading role in protecting First Amendment rights and privacy:

LAPPIN:  There is this real digital divide and when you're talking about things like the Tor browser or the VPN, the Virtual Private Network,  those are things that cost money and they prevent people from tracking your online activity but if that costs money and is not available to the general public you're talking about only people with money, at some point, will have their privacy protected. So that's a role that libraries can play in offering people ways to protect their privacy, online and in person

And last but far from least: some emailed comments  on libraries from Mr. Prior's 5th grade class at Fuller School in Keene:

  • Aden: "Reading a real book can get you off screens, but you can just buy them on Amazon.
  • Sophie: "We really need (libraries) because it's a very nice quiet place to read or work."
  • Cassidy: "I think technology will change libraries because people will just go on their phones and log on to a library app."
  • Drew:"Libraries may change because you can order books online and they get mailed to you. You read the book and mail it back, kind of like a Netflix subscription."
  • Bronson: "I think that libraries should still be open, but don't add any new books, since new books you can read on electronics." 
  • Chase:"Libraries help us learn and open us up to new ideas and facts, fiction, and fantasy." 


 For the full conversation on libraries in the digital era, listen here.


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