What If? Exploring How Libraries Can Embody Trends of the Twenty-First Century

By Malin, Sarah C. | Young Adult Library Services, Fall 2012 | Go to article overview

What If? Exploring How Libraries Can Embody Trends of the Twenty-First Century


Malin, Sarah C., Young Adult Library Services


It's a Challenge

As we work with schools and public libraries to design learning experiences and environments, we're often dealt with the challenge of how to make libraries relevant to today's young people. Our technique is to take a step back and consider the larger picture: consider larger trends in learning and society as a whole. By focusing on these, we can help libraries achieve greater relevance on a holistic, community-based scale. The following discussion outlines powerful trends that inform our work and offer ideas as to how a library can respond to the trajectory of the 21st century.

Trends of Our Time

Society is undergoing a paradigm shift moving from passivity to activity. Technology has opened up opportunities for participation and assembly at an unprecedented scale. In many ways, it is the era of renewed democratic activism. All ages, all demographics, all nations are empowered to move away from responding to top-down processes and absorbing information. Now millions around the world are starting their own movements and experimenting with methods to make their community a better place. As a result, we see a global culture powered by social media rather than diplomatic efforts arise. We see nations like Egypt and Tunisia reconsider their form of governance. And, we see teachers and professors step down from their podium and place students at the helm of their own learning.

It is time for libraries to consider how to better serve this shift, appeal to younger generations, and stay agile in a time of rapid change. What does this look like on the institutional level? What is the modern public library?

To prove relevant to our hyperconnected participatory world, a library must strive to embody current trends, not just house materials about them. While the fundamental mission of a library will stay the same, its approach and methods must evolve to incorporate trends related to participation and connection.

Keep in mind that a library encompasses three realms: education, social, and civic. How can a library be a better educational restitution when society is shifting its understanding of learning from knowledge consumption to learning production.) How can a library be a better social institution when our world is becoming increasingly collaborative and interconnected.) How can a library be a better civic institution when participation is available to all.) These are the questions we're having fun considering.

Library as an Educational Institution

For decades the library has stood as a center of knowledge, supporting the public's pursuits of lifelong learning. It houses a wealth of resources: a catalog of facts and stories that string together generations of experts and authorities. A visitor can browse the stacks and tangibly see the progression of our society. Libraries are viscerally connected to history.

But how can a library better reflect the paradigm shift to active learning? What if we shift from an emphasis on browsing resources to an emphasis on creating with resources? Learning requires the personalization of information. We each digest what we come across and weave it together to form our own ideas. Without this process and form of engagement, the information will not sink in. What if visitors added their materials to the shelves? Imagine the library becoming a gallery that celebrates the artifacts of current learning by customers alongside the findings of established experts. Visitors are empowered to put their own mark on fact and take their own place on the shelves.

As libraries strengthen their digital media expertise to keep up with technological trends, their collections become more accessible and participatory for young generations. The MacArthur Foundation's Digital Media and Learning Initiative, which supports Chicago's YOUmedia program, highlights how digital media can foster intellectual curiosity in teens and offer a medium for youth to personalize their library. …

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