The other week, or actually it was the other month, I joined Refresh Savannah, a monthly gathering of people who are interested in positive change. Their guest of the day was Christian Kruse, the director responsible for Savannah’s Public Library, as well as the county library system.
I love libraries. They are great resources and gathering places for local communities. Savannah Public Library was the first one on the East Coast to have an electronic check out system, and they have now just added two new libraries, as in physical buildings, in the last years.
One of the most telling statistics from Kruse was that they were expecting the readership in the main library to go down by 50% once they opened the two new branches. But it turns out the new sites mostly attract new readers; and the main library readership decreased only by 20%, and some of this loss can be attributed to SCAD expansion taking away some of their parking spots.
The pressing question is — given the double whammy of budget cuts and e-readers — how will the library of the future stay relevant?
The educated fans of the public library that vote and influence city politics are the first ones to get e-readers and are thus less connected to their local library as they don’t frequent them anymore. What can we do about that?
My first suggestion was to add a tools library which consists of items such as saws, drills and lawn movers. Like you check out books, you can check out tools on a need basis. Kruse said that the libraries at the county-level are working on something like this. Love that.
My primary suggestion was to focus on the community aspect by giving local people access to space to get together, share ideas, and create. We were told they are doing that, however, they don’t have the resources to accommodate all the requests. Therefore they don’t want to lock down the spaces for one group every week at the same time. They want other groups to have a say in how to split up scarce resources. Good, but not ideal.
Then it dawned on me, that they could retool some of the space, that will get freed up by the library moving to digital media. My favorite place to be can be created: a local Maker/Hackerspace for people that want to tinker and be together with other folks that like to tinker too.