I feel that libraries are being crowded out by instant streaming and monthly subscription unlimited ebook plans. They’re sort of the dinosaurs of government, moving right up there with the US Post Office and Detroit’s famous blacksmith position. Some efforts to improve the problem include the famous bookless library model, but that has too many problems to work long term. It requires that you read within the library at the computers, or that you own a tablet, smartphone, or laptop to read when you are out and about. It is also difficult for a blind person to read braille if there is no braille to read (audio books are, strictly speaking, not reading) and computer screens may be difficult for people with visual focusing disabilities or seizure tendencies to stare at for very long, and the bookless library is nothing but screens. But libraries needn’t simply give up on being an office soon swept into antiquity.
Libraries can focus on providing otherwise hard to find books. Small batches of otherwise out of print books would be great for someone who loves retro books like me. Having copies of legal translated manga would also help put a crack in the huge manga bootlegging industry as well. (Which flourishes primarily because it is darned difficult to get legal copies of these comics, and they come out twenty years after the original books) Or providing foreign language books and children’s books that are really hard to find in American book stores. My local library has started on this, but even though three nearby highschools offer Japanese as a foreign language there are only ‘texts’ available, and no casual reading books for practice. In fact, the foregin language books tend to focus on Spanish and Vietnamese. I don’t even know that many Vietnamese people around here. Besides that, though, we have a ton of people fluent in Arabic, and Chinese, or Amharic (largest population of Ethiopians outside of Ethiopia in the area) and nothing in those languages or even French and German.
Libraries have added CDs and DVDs in the last few years, or at least my local ones have. But what about other things? Maybe video games? Not like high class famous video games, but maybe basic ones? And what about access to those essential programs many of us don’t personally own? If the computers at the public library gave access to Word and Photoshop and others, like perhaps Rosetta Stone or some other language learning software? That would help a large portion of the population. Of course, there could be messy licensing or distribution conflicts I happily know nothing about that get in the way of this. I don’t claim to be an expert!
Libraries often hold book related meetings and allow various special interest group to meet in public meeting rooms. But why not switch things around? Host workshops on life skills or hobby skills, like a sewing workshop or a cleaning laundry lesson. Like a dynamic book club: read a how-to book, then attend a workshop to practice skills. Or continuing education workshops to teach professionals computer skills? I know some some other institutions cover some of those bases, but why take it for granted that these opportunities exist?
Why not lend things besides classic learning materials? Have a toy lending collection like in Europe. Or sports equipment lending to encourage exercise, especially during the Summer break! Or, if that’s not feasible (I bet it’s not practical at all), why not have game afternoons or tournaments in brain stimulating games like checkers and chess or kid’s learning games?
Something big libraries could do would be to support the creation of books. There’s always the course of supporting writing circles by giving them a place to crash or hosting NaNoWriMo write ins. Something like a Library lock in for a writer’s group, or a kid’s birthday party, that you can pay through the nose for the opportunity to keep those lights on after hours and a staff member to keep an eye on troublesome kids, to raise money for the library. Or libraries could host events like a poetry reading party set up like an underground nineties coffee shop, with refreshments available for a fee. (Free event so it is still a public service!) Maybe blog support workshops and meet up events would be beneficial for the public as well?
I’ve got more activity and event ideas for the library, of course. We Marketing major students think that way, you know. There could be a book fair event: Library sells their books, and turns it into a fair. Prizes, games, and more kids and adults going home with books, while the library can buy new things with the money it made! Or a book trials: See if a new book will be added to the collection by holding reading trials for it. If x number of people like it and add their slip of paper to the ‘keep’ box in a Greek style ballot, add a few more copies into circulation. Or have a competition where people bring in a book they own and fight for the public’s vote to get the library to buy a copy for circulation. If the populace is more involved with the stocking decisions, they may feel more encouraged to read, and hang out at the library, and possibly to donate to the library.