Crowdsourced Design: Why Los Angeles Is Asking the Public to Create the Library of the Future

Do you want a maker space? A cafe? Designing the library of the future is up to you.

If you could design your own public, community library of the future, what would it look like?

How would it help your community and address the needs of the underserved?

This year marks the 141st anniversary of the Los Angeles Public Library. Since its founding in 1872 as a modest reading room in rented space downtown, the Los Angeles Public Library has expanded to include the Richard J. Riordan Central Library and 72 municipal branch libraries that stretch from the Los Angeles Harbor region in San Pedro to nearly 50 miles north in Sylmar, and from El Sereno in East LA to nearly the Pacific Ocean, almost 40 miles to the west.

The library serves over four million people—the largest population of any library in the United States—and is the largest public research institution west of the Mississippi River. In 2011, nearly 13 million people visited the library and borrowed more than 15 million physical and electronic items.

The Los Angeles Public Library’s mission is to provide free and easy access to information, ideas, books, and technology that enrich, educate and empower every individual in our city's diverse communities.

Despite our size, the expanse of the area we serve, the programs we currently offer, the library is nothing without its community. So, we're surveying the public and asking them to tell us how we can best continue to fulfill our mission and help us create a collaborative vision of y/our library of the future.

While the library has always aimed to be the vibrant center of every community it serves, much has changed in the past twenty years. Once a place mainly for physical books, we now offer over 100 databases which feature electronic access to thousands of newspapers, magazines, journals, encyclopedias and more. We also offer access to over one half million e-books, e-audiobooks, video on demand, and music files on demand in addition to a collection of more than six million books in many languages—all free, all shared and all chosen and coordinated with the goals of engagement, collaboration, and participation.

The library has become a place where powerful personal change happens, with special areas within the libraries just for children and teens, and neighborhood literacy centers where adults learn to read. With innovative technology, free computers and computer classes, it is the place where everyone in L.A. can bridge the digital divide—and it is one of the last remaining places where one can stay all day without purchasing anything.

We know, however, that as we head toward the third decade of the 21st Century, we have to further adjust to meet the needs of the community. There's the question of whether the library of the future still needs to carry physical books at all. Perhaps some people are asking themselves, how is the library still relevant to me? But if people do not currently use their local library, what can the library do to change that?

We already provide job hunting resources, resume workshops, and teach computer skills. We try to make sure those who are new to the United States find a home in the library so we offer immigration and citizenship information. We also feature financial literacy workshops and programs to encourage youth and adolescent development and literacy. But is that enough? Is that what the public wants?

We've been inspired by the Maker Movement so we're asking ourselves if libraries should have makerspaces, loan out tools or even become a seed bank? Should there be an area to create your own media—like YouTube videos, book trailers, music, and more? And do people want workshops on how to fix bikes, learn Arduino or Scratch, or design video games?

We also need to know whether people still want quiet areas, study rooms, meeting rooms, multipurpose rooms and performance spaces. How should the services and information in the library be organized? Would you charge late fines or offer a fine-free amnesty period? Do people still want cafés at the library?

There are so many exciting possibilities—we are full of ideas—but we need your help honing our focus. We can't design the library of the future without your help—no city can. Answer our brief 2-minute survey and tell us your vision.

Candice Mack is the Teen Services & Outreach Librarian at the Richard J. Riordan Central Library in Los Angeles.

This post is part of the GOOD community's 50 Building Blocks of Citizenship. This week: Get a Library Card. Follow along, join the discussion, and share your experience at #goodcitizen.

Public library image via Shutterstock

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