If you thought millennials were going to be the end of public libraries, think again.
A new study by the Pew Charitable Trust finds that the millennial generation is more likely than any other to use public libraries. According to the study, 53 percent of millennials said they had used a public library or bookmobile in the last 12 months, compared to just 45 percent of Gen Xers and 43 percent of baby boomers.
How Libraries Are Becoming Tech Hubs
While books are a draw for the younger generation, technology seems to be a major factor in their decision to frequent the local library and peruse the shelves. One harbinger of this is that more than 40 percent of millennials said they had used a library website in the past 12 months, compared to just 24 percent of baby boomers, according to Pew’s most recent report.
This is likely because, like their patrons, public libraries are rapidly changing to adopt more technology and gadgets. According to a recent New Media Consortium Horizon Report, most college students turn to Google or Wikipedia to begin their research. For this reason, many public libraries are instead rethinking and revamping their spaces to provide technical resources, such as makerspaces, 3D printers, production studios and more.
At DeKalb Public Library in DeKalb, Ill., for example, community leaders recently embarked on a modernization project that introduced a 3D printer, automated book checkout and a new fiber-optic backbone, among other tech, with the aim to increase digital access and literacy.
‘Petting Zoos’ Bring Technology to the Public
Meanwhile, libraries can also help to provide familiarity and technical skills to patrons. E-books and tablets are growing in popularity and many different types of devices are widely available, but not all library patrons — or librarians themselves — understand how to use the new technology.
With the aim to provide patrons hands-on experience with e-readers and tablets, many libraries have created a technology “petting zoo" of devices. The Maine State Library, for example, has such a program that allows patrons to check out and familiarize themselves with e-readers and other tech, including Amazon’s Kindle Fire, Apple’s iPad Mini and Google’s Nexus.
And with 69 percent of Americans aged 16 and older saying they would like to access technology “petting zoos,” libraries adopting these practices seem to be right on the money.
Richmond Public Library in Virginia is another example of a successful technology “petting zoo,” but it takes the program one step further. The library recently began training its staff to use and train others on the technology in order to give employees the chance to navigate the dozen or so different devices that patrons use.
"A lot of [what we do] is technology education for the public," Cristina Ramirez, library and community services manager, told Style Weekly. "If we want to have a work force that's more tech-savvy ... this is a great way to do this.”
Back-End Technology Helps Libraries Adapt to a Changing World
The adoption of new back-end technologies, like the cloud or hyperconvergence, can help libraries become more flexible and experimental with the services and technologies they deliver.
The Topeka and Shawnee County (Kan.) Public Library, for example, recently switched to a Nutanix hyperconverged infrastructure, which allowed the IT department to standardize the user experience across 180 public computers, eliminate 36 servers and take on several new projects that expanded services to the public.
Further, Santa Clara (Calif.) City Library was able to introduce a digital media service that delivers music, movies, audio books and several other resources via the cloud.
“The cloud can make libraries more flexible and nimble,” Hilary Keith, Santa Clara’s city librarian, told StateTech. “My advice is to take a deep breath and don’t hold back. Experiment with the cloud as soon as you can.”