Twenty-First-Century Libraries: Ever Changing, While Staying the Same
Libraries evolve with the times while remaining true to their roots.
Libraries: bastions of knowledge and information, available to anyone regardless of income, as long as people can access them. While providing knowledge to the public has never changed as a primary goal for libraries, what has changed is the scope, breadth, and type of knowledge, not to mention how that knowledge is shared. Libraries have not only not shied away from the technological changes of the past fifty years, but they’ve also embraced those changes as tools to broaden their reach and deliver on their mission to even more people. Here’s what they’re doing and how twenty-first-century libraries have changed to continue providing knowledge.
Information in Many Forms
There was a time when providing access to print materials was a library’s primary function. While that’s still an important service, it’s far from the only way libraries make information available. Today, libraries have a variety of services at their disposal to provide books, newspapers and magazines, movies, and music online or in audio versions. And for households that may not have reliable internet to access those materials, libraries themselves have full wifi availability, and many have hotspot devices that can be checked out by patrons.
Bookmobiles have been in existence for many years, but they’re anything but old-fashioned. Many libraries use bookmobiles as a less expensive option than building a new library location. They use the bookmobiles to go into areas where patrons may have trouble coming to libraries, such as senior living buildings, rural areas, or low-income areas.
Providing New Types of Information
Libraries have long been advocates for knowledge of all kinds of things, but the rise of the pandemic in 2020 caused libraries to go even deeper. They became community hubs where people could call or visit for information on scheduling vaccinations (in some places, vaccine appointments had to be done online, but elderly or low-income people without computers didn’t have the ability to do that at home). Libraries also partnered with community food shelves to set up drop spots for families in need to get food while also checking out books and hotspot devices.
More and more, libraries have stepped up to serve communities where English is not the primary language. They provide language classes and workshops for people of all ages. They also provide workshops in non-English classes covering everything from finding a job to cooking classes.
Education — and Fun
Low literacy rates are found at the root of a myriad of community problems, including unemployment and health disparities. Library workers realized that it’s not enough to provide information, but they needed to provide information in relevant settings. Rather than the old ways of learning English by rote memorization, libraries began creating classes and workshops that grounded language students in real-world vocabulary and conversation, whether how to talk to a doctor, fill out a job application, or meet with a teacher for a parent–teacher conference.
Others set up parent–child storytimes with games and activities to make learning fun for both the child and the parent.
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Libraries also created safe spaces for children and teens to go after school if their parents or guardians couldn’t be at home to greet them. Children’s groups engaged in games or arts and crafts for fun, while teen groups held book clubs or cooking classes.
Providing information and knowledge is still the core mission of libraries today. But how they do that has expanded exponentially. Check out what your local library offers—you may be surprised at the range of events and activities available for free.
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