Today was the last meeting of the DCMS Public Library Modernisation Review 'Digital Services and Information Literacy' reference group. I've thoroughly enjoyed meeting and brainstorming with an interesting cluster of librarypeople. For this session we were each asked to come up with our 5 minute pitches on an idea for future innovation. Here's mine.
Let's face it, the Web IS the library of the future. And public libraries are unlikely ever to be at the forefront of developing new web resources. But libraries ARE trusted places in real communities.
So... let's create a different kind of Information and Imagination Service where you BRING YOUR OWN LIBRARY in the form of a laptop.
Of course you can also borrow a laptop from the library, and books and other materials including e-Readers and downloads for them.
But most importantly what you get is a SPACE to access the web from - a stimulating, playful, experimental environment with lots of browsing materials and displays, lots of different kinds of seating and spaces to sprawl, browse, chat or concentrate...
with LIBRARIANS to guide you - showing individual users what tools and applications might be most useful to them and how they can install them, what relevant information sources can be most trusted, how you can use the web to learn, to meet your aims and feed your enthusiasms.
with places to meet but also places to MINGLE. Users could position themselves in quiet zones or talk zones where they would be open to interaction with other users.
Rather than set up a seperate library network, all users would be encouraged to tag themselves in certain ways on existing social networks so it was easy for users to find others with similar interests, contact them on line and, if they wish, meet one to one or in groups in the safety of the library.
Library staff could help users create a front page for their laptops, with RSS feeds, applications and links which accurately and helpfully reflected their interests and purpose.
Cafes like Starbucks, or preferably the independents with free wi-fi, are also popular venues for laptop users, but the staff there are aiming only to sell coffee and you never know what everyone else is working on at their private screens.
But outreach work could include librarians going into cafes and other venues where people use the wifi and offering their skills to them.
AT the national level, public libraries should be co-ordinating annual awards given to those sites and applications deemed to be helping to make the web a better library.
AND they are well placed to comment critically on what they think is damaging the web.
SO at local level and national the library would be the place to check out the trustworthiness of sites, their best uses, their strenghts and weaknesses.
Some of these ideas are influenced by the Institute for the Future of the Book's meetings last year about the Really Modern Library; and they also link back to the work we did in Sheffield in the 1980s, well pre-web, to promote libraries as your local point of access to world culture and creative reading.
Now - where can if:book get some funding to do a pilot!?