When was the last time you visited your local library? For me, it had been a while, perhaps two years or more. That is not to say that I have not used my libraries services in that time; I have done that frequently. I download books for my ereader, and upon occasion, electronically look up, transfer, and hold a book at a nearby branch, which my wife picks up for me. This is usually a book that is not available in electronic format yet. My wife is frequent visitor to the library, and often checks out multiple books on a huge variety of topics, so she just picks up my materials while she is there.
Recently, I was at a Maker Con event in Tampa, where among the showcases was a booth for the Tampa/Hillsborough County library. The booth was staffed by two library employees, who were promoting a new development at the main library branch in downtown Tampa (John F. Germany Public Library). What they were promoting was the conversion of one floor of the library into a maker area. There are to be meeting spaces, tools (including a 3D printer), a robotics lab, and other small work areas for single or group projects. There are also some smaller rooms with tools like sewing machines for use be library patrons. I asked how one would reserve the use of these resources, and was told that it had not been worked out just yet. It is being targeted for opening around June/July 2014. For more information on the new facility, click here. A proposed layout of the new space can be found below:
So, last week I thought I would stop by to see if I could see what was going on. I couldn't get access to the area, but a very friendly and helpful employee did confirm what I learned about the area being created. She really didn't seem to know much more about it than I already did, stating that it was whole separate area of the library, and spoke of the the staff associated with it almost as if they were part a completely different organization or agency. I recall thinking at the time that it was kind of odd, especially since it was just another floor in the same branch.
While I was there, I looked for a book on a technical topic I was researching, and was happy to find a recently published copy on the topic. I flipped through it to make sure it covered what I was looking for, and was satisfied it would fulfill my need. I walked over to the checkout counter to check it out, and found that I could not check it out unless I had my physical library card with me. No card, no checkout. I had my card number with me (in my smartphone), but that wouldn't do, not even with a photo ID. How archaic - the same facility that will soon let me build and test robots, will only accept an old fashioned physical library card. Perhaps some of that innovation on the new floor could be put to use bringing the checkout up to the times.
I'm ecstatic the library is embracing the new user of libraries, and that soon there will be a whole new level of education available there. What a fantastic way to maintain relevance, and the potential to bridge old learning methods with new. Just don't make me bring my library card...