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Reinventing Itself as a Creative Lab: The 21st Century Library

April 10, 2012

When I moved to Canada at age 8, one of the first things I remember doing was checking out the local library. As the child of a father just getting started in his career, we did not have a lot of excess money for camps and the like. But that did not matter to me. Once I stepped into the world of Laura Ingalls and Nellie Wilder, I was hooked on every Little House series ever written. I literally read them all: the Martha, Caroline, Charlotte, and Rose years. Chunks of subsequent summers were spent buried in Dostoyevsky and Edith Wharton, consuming Almodovar and Woody Allen films. The library offered me a window into worlds different than mine. The materials it housed shaped my teenage hopes and dreams.

Having been so enriched my local library, it frustrates me to hear of closures due to budget cuts. In a guest post on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Impatient Optimists blog, Ellis, Jacobs, and Stasch note “The Knight, MacArthur, and Gates foundations support public libraries because they help people acquire the skills to become lifelong learners, compete in the global economy, and provide the knowledge to participate in civic life.

It is heartening to hear that some districts are taking measures to improve their existing libraries, while others close. The guest post also discusses the YOUmedia teen learning spaces in Chicago and Miami. These spaces allow all teenage library card holders access to computers, recording equipment, and mentors to foster their creativity. Other libraries are bringing digital literacy to the masses by offering classes (e.g. how to operate an e-reader, how to publish your own eBook), having librarians on-hand 24 hours a day through live chats, using mobile computer labs to reach minority communities, and installing QR codes to connect citizens with community resource.

In this digital age, the vast quantity of information available at the click of a mouse can be overwhelming. However, it is not enough to learn by sifting through the mountains of content available – rather, shaping a unique perspective and creating new content is an essential 21st century skill. Not all districts currently have the funding or public support to establish initiatives like the ones mentioned above but the beauty of the internet is that all the information you need to create similar initiatives in your own neighbourhood are available in seconds. Today, change can be created by anyone, anywhere.

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