Public library as a communication hub

Yesterday I published an article about how independent workers like myself can get a day’s work done (for free) at the library. It’s a great place to work, and I think libraries would benefit from advertising this fact to freelancers and independents.

In fact, the notion got me thinking about how the public library could benefit the whole community, not just workers without an office, if we start thinking of it as a communication hub.

I attended undergraduate school from 1989 – 1994. Back then, the campus library at Marywood University was called the “Media Center.” The school insisted that everyone from faculty to students call it the Media Center, and not “library.” I thought it was silly.

Today, I know they were ahead of their time.

I entered college almost 20 years ago. I first used a computer for actual productive work in the Media Center. I had a professor who required all communication with this students to be done via email; a novelty in 1991. In fact, the Media Center computers could explore books at other local universities and even place reservations. Remember, this was 18 years ago. I was blown away that experience.

The IS department on the 3rd floor became my home-away-from-home, and by the time I graduated I was prolific with computers and the young Internet. I had great conversations with interesting people and free access to cool technology. All thanks to the Media Center.

The emphasis was on communication. Both one-way (books, newspapers, etc.) and two-way (people, in person and online). Ideas were exchanged enthusiastically. I loved going to the Media Center, as it was on the forefront of technology.

My experience with public libraries has been different.

The Public Library

When I was young, my mother would walk with me to the library regularly. I loved selecting a book to take home, having my own card and so on. I also understood that the library was a serious place, where children had to be quiet and polite. We were to select a book and then walk home.

In jr. high we learned to use a card catalog and the Dewey Decimal System. Again, use of the library was “…a privilege” and not the place for fooling around. In other words, the sense of excitement I experienced at The Media Center was not there.

A Communication Hub

Today, our public libraries can create that excitement among their patrons (especially young people). My local library is taking (tentative) steps in that direction. They’ve hosted educational programs on Flickr, MySpace and Blogger. They’ve got a teen blog and a nice (if not small) room for teens with two brand-new iMacs.  They host teen movie and game nights.

That’s great, but we can think even bigger. The Media Center was a communication hub for the university. In the same way, a public library can become a communication hub for its community.

Video conferences with professionals in Hong Kong could be as commonplace as checking out a copy of The Old Man And The Sea. Community calendars that anyone can subscribe to with their home computers. Live blogging local literary events, book signings or special happenings at the local museum.

When a person wonders, “What’s going on today,” the automatic answer should be “check the library.” Today, people search a newspaper website, tourist magazines, community calendars, etc. The library should be the de-factor answer. Everything from live streaming of town meetings to the inventory of Jean’s weekend garage sale should be available at the library. Just off the top of my head.

Steve Jobs once called the Mac a “digital hub” which brings together a person’s photos, music, stories, etc. I see the library as doing the same for the people it serves — a community’s “Communication Hub.”