Many have written off their public libraries as quaint (and expensive) throwbacks in an era with ready access to Google, Borders and Starbucks. But as made clear in "Libraries in the Digital Age: Implications for Publishers," a stimulating new EPS report by Dan Penny and Rebeca Cliffe, libraries have a second life that may be just as relevant to the lifeblood of their communities. That second life makes them a combination B2B directory, city guide, social net, Meetup and Internet cafe.
Some, like The Brooklyn Library, have membership programs that include discounts with area merchants. Others have developed greasemonkey scripts that alerts users when they have a book that's been searched on Amazon.
"As a physical building located at the center of a town, a library … fulfills a valuable role in being a focus for the community," note the authors. "Many libraries have … developed social roles which are secondary to their original and most basic purpose: to collect and provide access to information content. Libraries have become notice-board providers, hosts of local association meetings, teaching spaces, and even places to meet friends."
Online, libraries can drive their own traffic. "Keeping the library front of mind for its community as the place to go for information will be key to maintaining its relevance," note the authors.
Trained librarians may not be front and center in the new social library. But, according to the authors, librarians still have a major role to play in the libraries' resurgence. "The ability to set up, maintain and use tools such as wikis, blogs, portals and communication tools such as email and instant messaging will be important ways for librarians to foster a sense of community and identity for the virtual library."