Can Libraries Survive the Digital Age?

Signs politely requisitioning silence. Rows and rows of books, their coloured bindings forming a rainbow of possibilities, each title a mystery waiting to be explored. Collections of periodicals, archives on microfilm. Collections of music or film, all ready to be borrowed or experienced.

The library has become more than a quiet place for research or reading for leisure, a place in which to find public records or archives of local newspapers. As time progresses, fewer libraries fit the conventional image of a quiet place of scholarly research, but there are some universal truths concerning libraries. They are hubs of knowledge, culture, and education.

As societies developed across the world, humanity became obsessed with recording knowledge. From clay tablets to papyrus to parchment, we have chronicled history, tales, and ideologies. We have transcribed recipes and guides on how to perfect a skill; if you can name it, we’ve attempted to record it. But now you can Google how to dig a well, how to write an essay, or how to make tiramisu. In an increasingly digital age, libraries are evolving in design to stay ahead of the curve, reflecting their new role as technological havens. These four libraries are at the forefront of innovation, proving that as society advances, our institutions of learning will mirror its progress.

Helsinki Central Library

This library’s mandate was to promote democracy and freedom of expression; its design mirrors this belief, emphasizing that this sanctuary of education is much more than a book warehouse. The reading space and bookshelves reside on the top floor, while the library’s other two levels are linked to an outdoor plaza and were constructed to welcome members of the public to come in and explore the library’s impressive offerings: a theatre, a workshop equipped with 3D printers, a recording studio, and a play area for children. The library also boasts robots designed to sort books. The future is now.

Calgary Central Library

Calgary’s Central Library opened its doors after a decade of development. According to the Calgary Herald, the new $245-million library offers four floors of learning spaces, nearly half a million books, and a six-month tech training program for those hoping to pursue a career in software development. This library has rooms dedicated to gaming; production studios for podcasts; a video recording studio complete with cameras, microphones, and even a green screen. It even has a post-production studio allowing people to edit any audio or video recording.

Qatar National Library

According to Online Qatar, this library is home to more than one million books and half a million ebooks, collections, and periodicals. It is designed with accessibility for visitors with special needs, offering audiobooks, books in large print, and in braille. This triumph of futuristic design is streamlined for the hustle and bustle of the 21st century with automated check-out machines, a people-mover system, and entire walls of interactive media. An innovation station provides visitors with access to 3D printers as well as audio and video recording equipment. The library teaches classes on information literacy, the use of digital resources, and research skills. It hosts craft workshops, storytelling workshops, and science exhibits for people of all ages, while also offering a children’s library filled with toys, innovative learning software, and its own team of dedicated children’s librarians.

James Hunt Library

According to its website, North Carolina State’s James Hunt Library is designed to encourage “collaboration, reflection, creativity, and awe.” The building promotes interactive computing and collaborative multimedia creation. The furniture itself is technology-enabled and there are entire walls of high-definition video.

The library is home to a solar tree that was left by the class of 2015’s Legacy Gift Committee. An interview posted on NC State News discussed this project with one of the students who was responsible for the solar tree’s creation.

“We all agreed that the state of the environment and our use of technology always needs improvement, and what better way to double our efforts in those causes than to leave a landmark of progress,” said Xavier Primus, who served on the committee. “We wanted a legacy that shows our commitment in an investment that will have the resiliency to inspire long after we depart NC State.”

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These sanctuaries of knowledge are beneficial to people of all ages and backgrounds. Libraries serve a diverse group of people with unique and varied needs while offering free literacy — and in a world full of text messages, email, Facebook, and Instagram, we need all the help we can get. These four state-of-the-art libraries prove that the rapid advancement of technology does not negate our need for libraries; it intensifies it.

Can’t stop thinking about libraries of the future?  Click here to learn more about Tianjin Binhai Library. Interested in more stores of knowledge that will blow your mind? Take a look at these breathtaking reading rooms. For more on the design of Calgary’s new crown jewel of literacy, check out this spotlight on its design.

 

 

Mihalis Barry
Mihalis Barry is a writer and actor from Mount Pearl, Newfoundland. He graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Sir Wilfred Grenfell College in 2012, and has worked with various theatre companies across the island. He currently resides in St. John's, with his charmingly grumpy cat named Remington.