library community“Where do we go from here?”

This million-dollar question was raised in a 2005 article in D-Lib: The Magazine of Digital Library Research. At the time, the article concluded that “Perhaps the overarching theme here… is connecting and integrating digital libraries with broader individual, group and societal activities, and doing this across meaningful time horizons that recognize digital libraries and related constructs as an integral and permanent part of the evolving information environment.”

Over the last decade, the ubiquity of cell phones and other mobile devices has hastened a massive societal shift towards the digital. For the most part, libraries have adapted. They have had to recognize that modern technology is ever-present, ever-evolving, and an integral part of society. But now, post-pandemic, there’s an additional competing need in society: the need for rebuilding community. So, how do we embrace technology AND build real community engagement? 

The Reality of Today’s Tech

It’s no secret that technology reduces person-to-person interaction. But despite that, it continues to play a significant role in the everyday lives of American families. Up to 80 percent of children today consistently use tablets or smartphones—both in school and for social interactions. But when the pandemic happened, people became more reliant than ever on technology—to provide some sense of community in a time when we all felt so desolate. 

The problem is that people have become stuck there. How often do you go out in public places now and see people more engaged with their phones than with each other? And what does that mean for libraries?

Even before the pandemic, a common underlying fear in the library industry has been that an increase in technology would decrease the use of books, and even brick-and-mortar libraries themselves. But libraries have always been a pillar for providing better information and access to that information. It’s true, that cell phones and other smart devices deliver information where people want to consume it. But studies show that people use their library’s computers and internet connections to organize or participate in community

Library Technology Solutions

Libraries that embrace technology in order to be the bridge for the community gap are the ones most set up for success. They draw people’s faces out of their devices and back to each other. Here are some ideas to help you better reach your patrons:

Different Formats for Services & Programming

When it comes to getting more materials into the hands of more children, the ALA recommends using “media mentorship”. It provides hybrid in-person and digital options to patrons. The key lies in promoting technology as one available tool while providing community as another. Person-to-person mentorship and tutoring are also a great need for patrons and their children now, with educational backsliding in the last 3 years.

Expand Successful Digital Solutions

Libraries can also provide digital resources, classes, subscriptions, and materials for arts and crafts kits and sewing kits to rebuild social hobbies and relational environments. Digital Inclusion Program classes teach community members how to harness the power of digital resources to leverage assets and engage the community through online organizing.

Innovative Library Solutions

Another great way to take advantage of digital technology is with a lending library kiosk. These portable units can be placed where they best benefit the community. Patrons can browse, place holds, check out materials, and more, all from a convenient unit that’s about the size of a standard vending machine. They can also be used as a hub for person-to-person interaction. 

For example, Missouri’s Morgan County Library worked with ILS to install a library vending kiosk in a Coffee Shop, which is 15 miles from the nearest physical location. The kiosk lending library provides both a hot spot and library materials to patrons who can’t get to the main library. It has also become a center for the community on its own. This remote library location offers an internet hotspot, as well as a weekly children’s interactive story time, drawing people together. This same model is being used in a Senior community center in Gulf Beaches, growing community amongst senior citizens.

In Conclusion

Researchers may have predicted accurately where technology was going. But they never could have predicted the loss in community that the pandemic cost us. And in some ways, technology and real community can be competing forces. By embracing technology, libraries can jump on the digital train and expand their reach, all while successfully rebuilding real community. It’s the best way to answer the question: Where do we go from here?