Planning Our Next Generation Libraries
Literacy is a learned skill involving an ability to transform characters on paper into mental concepts and images. Listening to an audio book requires a slightly different skill, but requires the ability to transform audio sounds into mental concepts and images.
The trend in the information world is to make the interface between information and our brains as seamless and as invisible as possible. However, if all we do is download tons of information into our brains, we haven’t accomplished much. Information needs to be relevant, useful, and somehow meaningful. In short, we need to experience it.
So how do we take dry, boring information and turn it into a meaningful experience?
In the team-based business cultures of our working lives, where good service is a minimum and professionalism is a given, businesses are grappling with the experience concept as a way to distinguish themselves? “The service economy, like a houseguest with good manners but too many vacation days, is leaving the scene. It is time for the experience economy” says renowned futurist John Naisbitt.
Stepping up to this challenge, many companies are working to “repackage their products and services in a way to deliver unique experiences.”
An experience is something personally encountered. Hence the popularity of falling in love or riding a rollercoaster. To imagine ourselves creating information experiences requires that we think of customers individually and that we use adaptive methods of problem-solving. Now we have to rise to another level, and it is a potentially chaotic level since it requires attentive interaction with people.
John Naisbitt tells us that “in the experience economy, services are linked together to form memorable events that personally engage the customer.”
As an example, coffee can be bought on a commodity level at any grocery store. On a product level it can be bought in any restaurant. But if you want the real coffee experience, you have to go to Starbucks. If you pay close attention, Starbucks is not in the business of selling coffee. Rather, their primary product is the Starbucks experience.
So if we transition that concept into the information world, how do we go about creating the ultimate information experience? How do we take words on a page, books on a shelf, or digitized bits on a memory stick and create information that has an impact? Another way of asking this is, how do we create informational experiences that are entertaining, timely, pertinent, and fun, and at the same time, meaningful and relevant to our lives?
Libraries are a perfect example of an industry struggling to make this transformation. Long regarded as a “center of information”, libraries find themselves competing with Barnes & Noble and their warm, inviting atmosphere, soft comfortable chairs and in-store coffee shops.
Future libraries have an opportunity to reinvent the information experience. Here are some examples of featured experiences that could be added to a library:
- Treadmills and Exercise Bicycles – People can read a book or listen to an audio book while they are working out. In fact, with added blood flow to the brain, this type of exercise-learning can actually improve retention.
- Mini-Theaters – The world is rapidly shifting to video for their information, best exemplified by YouTube’s million-plus downloads each day. Watching video on a computer screen is just scratching the surface of what the true experience could be. Mini-theaters will be designed to offer a fuller sensory experience without all the distractions.
- Podcasting Studios – Podcasting is quickly catching on, but few people understand how to use the equipment and post their podcasts online.
- Vidcasting Studios – The video version of Podcasting. These studios will quickly develop their own center of gravity, attracting a wide spectrum of creative people who want to make their ideas come to life.
- Band Practice Rooms – MySpace currently has 2.2 millions bands in their social network, and virtually all of them are searching for good places to practice. Soundproof rooms with viewing windows and listening phones will create an entirely new experience for libraries.
- Art Studios – Oil painting, watercolors, sculpting, sketching pads, and a variety of other types of artwork needs the right type of environment for some very creative people to breath life into their masterpieces. Private studios will have one-way viewing windows to allowing visitors to witness these important moments of inspiration.
- Drama Studios – For some people it is very limiting to just read a great screenplay or silently think through a character’s reaction in a particular book scene. Great moments in literature are begging for people to bring them to life, and what better way than to walk into a drama studio and go crazy.
These are just a few of the possibilities for creating a next-generation library.
In many respects, the ultimate information experience at future libraries will be where great ideas happen and people have the tools and facilities to act on those ideas.
ADDITIONAL LIBRARY ARTCLES:
- Future Libraries: Nerve Center of the Community
- The Future of Library Series: Part 3 – The Electronic Outpost
- The Future of Library Series: Part 2 – The Search Command Center
- The Future of Library Series: Part 1 – The Time Capsule Room
- The Future of Education
- The Future of Libraries
By Thomas Frey, Executive Director and Senior Futurist at the DaVinci Institute