The photo of children listening to stories is clearly dated. Old-
fashioned clothing is the giveaway.
Although taken in 1912 at the St. Louis Public Library, the
activity itself children's storytime has never gone out of style.
"Storytimes are as busy as ever, and we still do them well," says
Waller McGuire, who has hung the 100-year-old photo outside his
office as executive director.
In the 21st century, however, stories might be read from iPads,
which hold dozens of books. Truck drivers download audio books to
take on the road, and lawyers in Singapore email a Midwest librarian
for information on trademarks.
"We're like retail stores, banks, media," McGuire says, "trying
to understand how we can best serve people using new technology."
Curiously, however, studies show that residents are often unaware of
the vast updates, and challenges, as libraries grapple with 21st-
As the city's historic Central Library finishes a $70 million
renovation, celebrating with a fancy party this weekend, the St.
Louis County Library begins planning its own construction projects.
County voters this month approved a tax rate increase, signaling
confidence in the future of their system's 20 buildings. It will be
a "renaissance for libraries in the St. Louis region," says Charles
Pace, the county library director.
Both directors say updated facilities are essential but they are
not the only changes taking place in these public institutions.
BEYOND BOOKS "I still get people who are surprised we have DVDs,"
Not only do 21st-century public libraries have free movies, they
Help people start small businesses.
Offer phone apps to download books from home.
Lend out e-readers or show patrons how to use various devices.
Offer free online courses or access to expensive genealogy
In addition, even though much conventional wisdom brays that
children don't read, evidence shows that library usage among teens
and young adults is strong.
A study released last month showed that readers under age 30 are
more likely to use public libraries. Sixty percent of those readers
compared with 49 percent of people over 64 said they visited the
public library at least once in the year before the survey,
according to a Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life
Overall, library users told Pew that they want it all: e-books
and print books, plus audiobooks, movies, magazines, newspapers,
computers and wireless service.
The Brentwood Public Library recently bought Kindle e-readers,
which patrons may take home (they have tracking devices inside so
they don't disappear). Some of the Kindles come pre-loaded with
several books in a particular genre, such as mysteries or romances.
When the city's Central Library reopens Dec. 9, it will have
added about 50 iPads, which it plans to circulate. Phone apps are
being developed to help patrons navigate the building.
Today's public library is trying to be "nimble and stay in touch
with the community," the county library's Pace says.
In an email a week after voters approved the county tax increase,
Pace said the revenue is important not only to make repairs, but to
implement the "latest advances in the library industry." Although no
final decisions have been made, Pace says the county library's
future may include a "digital content creation lab, small-business
incubator space, (and) Makerspaces, which incorporate 3-D printing
and other new technologies." The library is responding, as he says,
to a world that has gone from "information scarcity to information
abundance," and yet its community-driven mission isn't always that
different from the one of libraries a century ago.
THE CARNEGIE LEGACY Some of the first public libraries had not
only books, but billiard rooms and basketball courts.
The Carnegie Library of Homestead in Pennsylvania still rents out
a heated indoor pool and holds concerts in its music hall. …