Library as the Great Equalizer – The Patron Perspective, Part One
There’s just something intangibly provocative about libraries. Magical and ethereal and transformative. Pages of books ask age-old questions that have plagued humanity about life, nature and purpose. Seekers of knowledge choose among theories, answers and speculation. This is not a place of absolutes. It’s a space for modern debate, open challenge and fair consideration.
Libraries are the great equalizer. No matter societal judgment—acceptance, rejection or invisibility—all are welcome through its doors. Faces of color, age, beauty and struggle. All claim equitable ownership.
A utility bill, that’s all it takes. That’s your pass to knowledge at no charge, to a world of wonder and a place where imagination is welcome. The crinkle of turning pages, the cracking of old binding and the permeating scent of musty paper define the space. Bibliophiles love it. In fact, they demand it. Their passion sustains the daily business of the library, so progressive change has required collaboration.
But the fear that change would mean the crumbling of one of the world’s most coveted institutions has evaporated like a slow mist. The modern library is here, present and accounted for. It’s a mix of paper and code, laughter and silence, searching and discovery.
Walk through the doors of the library in Anytown, USA. The 21st century is present everywhere. Computer screens flicker while bar scans allow for swift checkouts. Customized library software supports search requests, catalogue content and online payment systems. Card catalogues are null and void and serve only as a reminder of inefficiency, progress and nostalgia.
Even the online public access catalog, the online database of materials held by a given library system, has evolved as patrons desire accuracy, speed and options. Dissatisfied with outdated software, next-generation catalogs are now in demand. The newest catalogs are defined by faceted search, a technique for accessing information from a system that organizes knowledge into a methodical order. Demand has always invited innovation.
“Shushing” has been replaced with librarians who encourage interaction, debate and discussion. They are now the catalyst for the modernization of what was once a building with a single purpose—books, in and out, while quiet solitude played in the background.
The first library is perhaps history’s most revered—the Great Library of Alexandria, founded in 300 B.C., open to the public, but only to the “intellectually worthy”. Driven to build their great library, many wrote letters begging for scrolls. Still others stole from tourists and deceived authorities to add to the library’s collection. Its founders went to extreme lengths to realize their vision; a thirst for knowledge has always defined humanity.
Not much has changed—book lovers remain a determined and passionate bunch. Libraries aren’t going anywhere; they are here to stay.
But they have needed to make a few adjustments. Change has arrived.
Until next time…