The Physical Spaces that are Libraries

I saw this blog post recently arguing for libraries – as actual physical places you can go, visit, stay a while, read something, etc.  The author waxes nostalgic about reading old books.  Images of yellowed and cracked pages abound.  This is all fine. But I think that we’re going to need more cogent arguments around the value of physical library spaces than just tapping into nostalgia.  She closes by saying:

The truth is, I don’t know why brick-and-mortar libraries still serve a purpose. I could have checked out the e-book version, but instead, sitting somewhere in the mid-800s of nonfiction, I have found a perfect location, just light enough to read but shielded from passerby. Turning the thick, dinner-stained pages of Ramona the Pest, the dust jacket crinkles and within a single chapter I am eight again.This is my third place; my place between work and home where I belong. And sitting here is why I continue to fight for public libraries.

This is a valid view-point!  And, don’t get me wrong, I love the Mrs. Pollifax series (having just discovered it!!) and I regularly go to the Ann Arbor District Library so I can tear through her next adventures.*  These books are slightly yellowed.  I like their smell.  And that’s all very nice, but it’s not the reason I’ll be voting “yes” on the Library Bond Proposal on the Nov. 6th ballot.
Library spaces are in the process of being re-imagined as the world of libraries undergoes an incredible transformation as the world re-aligns itself with all things digital.  Libraries still have functions that are absolutely critical to our society:  preserving the cultural record, creating and organizing entry points to that record so people can access it (e.g. ensuring robust and adequate metadata), and providing access to that record.  These are some of the basic functions, the basic mission of the library as an entity.  Many other functions follow from those.
Arguments for the keeping and improving of physical library spaces need to be grounded in how the re-envisioning of these spaces is still rooted in its basic mission – moreover in how the re-envisioning of these spaces is essential to fulfilling its basic mission in the most recent age of information.  This is a question I’m going to be mulling about in the ol’ noggin for a little while.  And perhaps I shall write a bit more in the future on this topic.  It’s one that interests me quite a bit.
*Though, I can read a book in one sitting so I force myself not to check out more than one book at a time and I force myself to wait at least a month between checking out the books.  If only I could be as disciplined with chocolate as I am with Mrs. Pollifax…

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