Libraries Should Own the Future—Here's How They Can

Here are four things I'd like to see libraries try to do.

It's almost 2013 and some of my favorite institutions are in real trouble. But one—the library—is strangely positioned quite well for the future.

I like libraries, bookstores, newspapers, magazines, Wikipedia and the internet in general, but am increasingly disillusioned with e-commerce. What it lacks is serendipity. Algorithms don't do the trick. The desire for discovery isn't satisfied with "other customers frequently bought" solicitations.

Prompted by this fun story on updating what libraries are (and can be) to citizens, I developed a list of things that I think libraries can do to become a little more modern and awesome, and build on the huge advantage they already have—people increasingly demand information for free. Free information has been the library's core competency since time immemorial.

Here's the list:

Leverage Goodreads and Meetup. Disappointingly, Netflix never quite nailed the social elements that seem within reach for them—though they plan to take another serious crack at it in 2013. I could give them the benefit of the doubt and say, hey, maybe movie-watching is too personal and people didn't want to constantly share their viewing habits. On the other hand, it's hard to believe that there's anything too sacred to share online anymore for some folks. Goodreads, the social network for book lovers, (and other sites like it) should be the kind of tool that libraries can use to better connect with patrons who are increasingly discovering books online. Another highly valuable resource provided by libraries—gathering spaces—seems a natural fit for Meetup.

Both would require some thoughtful use, and maybe even brainstorming directly with the sites themselves, but it'd benefit both if the voice and presence of the library were associated with those discovery-oriented sites.

If anybody knows of examples of libraries making great use of these or other social networks, please let me know.

Beat coffeeshops. Why does everybody go to coffeeshops to work? Mainly because they have tables, coffee and wifi. So do many libraries. I could walk a block and a half to a library to work, but instead I walk about six blocks to one of a few coffeeshops. Why? Because it's just not that pleasant to work in my local library.

You don't have to blow a ton of cash and build an internationally recognizable library (although it helps). You just have to be a better gathering space than a coffeeshop. Provide cool space, sell caffeinated drinks—heck, if you're big enough, maybe you can even lease out space to two or three different coffeeshops. One can appeal to the Starbucks crowd and one can appeal to the indie-or-die crowd.

Libraries should be the default gathering places in our neighborhoods.

Beat bookstores. This shouldn't be hard, really. Bookstores are like libraries that charge you money. Yes, many of us (myself included!) want to buy and own physical books. But we're fewer and fewer in number, thanks to e-books, among other things, and so bookstores are closing. Many areas are underserved. How about giving the local Barnes & Noble a little competition, as is the Arlington Heights Memorial Library? This is from the above-mentioned Times story:

Renovations going on there now will turn a swath of the library’s first floor into an area resembling a bookshop, where patrons will be pampered with cozy seating, a vending cafe and, above all, an abundance of best sellers.


Learn from CSAs. This is a longshot, but look: People know generally what they want, but not exactly what they want. In the case of the CSA, some people want good vegetables, grown locally. They want them because they know that eating local vegetables is good for them, for their community and even for their planet. They accept the fact that every two weeks, they'll be given a box of vegetables that they didn't choose. It's a fun and healthy challenge. Can libraries recreate this? Would you be interested in receiving a package of three books, delivered right to your doorstep, based on your history with the library and/or your geography? Above, I said algorithms don't tickle my fancy. Here, I'm saying, What if they could? Deal with it.

Photo via Flickr (cc) user Paul Lowry.

via The Howard Stern Show / YouTube

Former Secretary of State, first lady, and winner of the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton, sat own for an epic, two-and-a--half hour interview with Howard Stern on his SiriusXM show Wednesday.

She was there to promote "The Book of Gutsy Women," a book about heroic women co-written with her daughter, Chelsea Clinton.

In the far-reaching conversation, Clinton and the self-proclaimed "King of All Media" and, without a doubt, the best interviewer in America discussed everything from Donald Trump's inauguration to her sexuality.

Keep Reading Show less

Offering parental leave for new fathers could help close the gender gap, removing the unfair "motherhood penalty" women receive for taking time off after giving birth. However, a new study finds that parental leave also has a pay gap. Men are less likely to take time off, however, when they do, they're more likely to get paid for it.

A survey of 2,966 men and women conducted by New America found that men are more likely to receive paid parental leave. Over half (52%) of fathers had fully paid parental leave, and 14% of fathers had partially paid parental leave. In comparison, 33% of mothers had fully paid parental leave and 19% had partially paid parental leave.

Keep Reading Show less

Bans on plastic bags and straws can only go so far. Using disposable products, like grabbing a plastic fork when you're on the go, can be incredibly convenient. But these items also contribute to our growing plastic problem.

Fortunately, you can cut down on the amount of waste you produce by cutting down on disposable products. And even more fortunately, there are sustainable (and cute) replacements that won't damage the environment.

Coconut bowls


Who says sustainable can't also be stylish? These cute coconut bowls were handmade using reclaimed coconuts, making each piece one of a kind. Not only are they organic and biodegradable, but they're also durable, in case your dinner parties tend to get out of hand. The matching ebony wood spoons were polished with the same coconut oil as the bowls.

Cocostation Set of 2 Vietnamese Coconut Bowls and Spoons, $14.99; at Amazon

Solar powered phone charger


Why spend time looking around for an outlet when you can just harness the power of the sun? This solar powered phone charger will make sure your phone never dies as long as you can bask in the sun's rays. As an added bonus, this charger was made using eco-friendly silicone rubber. It's win-win all around.

Dizaul Solar Charger, 5000mAh Portable Solar Power Bank, $19.95; at Amazon, $19.95; at Amazon

Herb garden kit

Planter Pro

Put some green in your life with this herb planter. The kit comes with everything you need to get a garden growing, including a moisture meter that helps you determine if your herbs are getting the right amount of food to flourish. All the seeds included are certified to be non-GMO and non-hybrids, meaning you can have fresh, organic herbs right at your fingertips.

Planter Pro's Herb Garden Cedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazonedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazon

Reusable Keurig cups

K & J

Keurig cups are convenient, but they also create a ton of plastic waste. These Keurig-compatible plastic cups are an easy way to cut down on the amount of trash you create without cutting down on your caffeine. Additionally, you won't have to keep on buying K Cups, which means you'll be saving money and the environment.

K&J Reusable Filter Cups, $8.95 for a set of 4,; at Amazon

Low-flow shower head


Low-flow water fixtures can cut down your water consumption, which saves you money while also saving one of the Earth's resources. This shower head was designed with a lighter flow in mind, which means you'll be able to cut down on water usage without feeling like you're cutting down on your shower.

Speakman Low Flow Shower Head, $14.58; at Amazon

Bamboo safety razor


Instead of throwing away a disposable razor every time you shave, invest in an eco-friendly, reusable one. This unisex shaver isn't just sustainable, it's also sharp-looking, which means it would make a great gift for the holidays.

Zomchi Safety Razor, $16.99; at Amazon

The Planet