Technology hasn’t killed public libraries – it’s inspired them to transform and stay relevant

Thursday, November 15, 2018

In 2017, archaeologists discovered the ruins of the oldest public library in Cologne, Germany.

The building may have housed up to 20,000 scrolls, and dates back to the Roman era in the second century.

When literacy was restricted to a tiny elite, this library was open to the public. Located in the centre of the city in the marketplace, it sat at the heart of public life.

We may romanticise the library filled with ancient books; an institution dedicated to the interior life of the mind. But the Cologne discovery tells us something else. It suggests libraries may have meant something more to cities and their inhabitants than being just repositories of the printed word.
Read more: State libraries need our support and participation to survive

Contemporary public libraries tell us this too. Membership has generally declined or flat-lined, but people are now using libraries for more than borrowing books. Children come to play video games or complete homework assignments together. People go to hear lectures and musical performances, or attend craft workshops and book clubs.

Libraries have become vital for the marginalised, such as the homeless, to access essential government services such as Centrelink, and to stay connected. They have become defacto providers of basic digital literacy training – such as how to use an iPad or access an eGov account. Others cater to tech-enthusiasts offering advanced courses on coding or roboticsin purpose-built spaces and laboratories.
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