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The future is now

The future of libraries

(This column will be published in the Dec. 2, 2020, Frankenmuth News by Roz Weedman.) No organization can survive without considering how the future will shape its purpose and ability to meet the needs of those it serves. With the age of information at our fingertips, I’ve heard people question whether public libraries are necessary. But a world of information is different than the right information, and information access is only one facet of library services. Where are libraries headed, who do they/will they serve, and how is our library stepping forward to welcome the future? Library Director Pamela Williams, all the librarians, and the Library Board led by Dan Wortman aren’t approaching this haphazardly.

Everyone with a phone or a Kindle knows that books and resources are increasingly digitized which leads to the conclusion that paper books, while certainly not threatened, are taking up less space than they used to. Our library has steadily increased its investment in digital resources, upping its game as it both leads and follows our patrons’ needs and wishes. Where once the wealth of a library was visible by the book count on the shelves, now it is more measured by what it can get into people’s hands by any means.

We know statistically, for example, that the demand for paper magazines has plummeted based on our own usage. But we offer many more periodicals than we ever could have in paper that can be downloaded digitally. We partner with our area consortium to bargain for digital materials and resources to get the most for the money. We are part of MeL and RB Digital / Overdrive which means that even if we don’t have the book you want, we can get it in some form. Everything doesn’t have to be on our shelves to be in your home. We offer far more, even though it is much less visible. Patrons have caught on, both learning how to use and demanding digital services – and this will only increase. Librarians, meanwhile, also work on book displays to still maximize the browsing experience, the aha! find.

That brings us to architecture and space. As resources become digitized, the demand for physical space actually increases. When this pandemic is over, you’ll notice some changes in space. The library functions now and will even more in the future as a community space. What a perfect place to hold small meetings, for example. How do you have meetings that don’t bother others? You’ll see fairly soon two new fishbowl conference rooms. Small groups can reserve them or use as available and will find themselves sitting in an area both private and public. The walls are clear and will provide quite a visual change. The upstairs tables themselves will change to adapt to the way patrons use them in groups. We don’t need an addition to create new rooms and space.

One of the most critical changes in libraries has to do with community focus, taking the library beyond our walls– no building projects necessary. A most recent example of that is holding Story Time at the Frankenmuth Farmer’s Market. This was both popular and fun. Just before the Covid crisis, the library’s Mah Jongg group played at Winter Village, combining some of our players with theirs. Discussions were under way for bringing together the library Mah Jongg group and a national tournament at the Bavarian Inn Lodge. Those plans are on hold but will resume as soon as possible. Our Writer’s Group has had a couple gatherings in the past at the Harvest Coffee House and our Mah Jongg players were there every week in addition to once a week at the library. Just as space is digital as well as measured in square feet, the space that the library operates in and serves is expansive. Our library book club, Books for Lunch, has become adept at Zoom meetings never missing a month.

The future of libraries is more inclusive. Both groups of people and individuals with all sorts of special needs are part of our larger community, and we want them to be part of our library community in ways that serve them best. Librarian Cheri Stainforth is working to coordinate materials that are more inclusive both in terms of that which can be checked out and what can be used on site. She is also connecting with the people who can use these resources.

Pam Williams who has been at the forefront of all this gets the last word: “Most of all, libraries have to be adaptable and flexible enough to stretch their resources to meet the changing needs of the community. The pandemic showed us that libraries connect with communities beyond the books.”

See you at the Library, in all its forms!

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