As quick as some people are to dismiss the printed book as obsolete, I hate to ask their opinion about the future of libraries. I admit that I haven’t included any scenes set in libraries in any of my future fiction (bookstores, yes, libraries, no). I don’t personally spend a lot of time in libraries now, mainly because once I have a book in my hand I hate to give it back! Still, a new article at Wired got me thinking.

Libraries have done pretty well in keeping up with the times, with videos, e-books, and audiobooks available to borrow. I don’t foresee that all books will be available free to own anytime soon (hoping that readers will show some restraint when it comes to piracy), so some system of borrowing will probably continue. Whether that will take the form of bricks and mortar libraries is a tougher question, but the trend described in the Wired article offers some hope. Libraries in cities all over are creating what they call “makerspace”: areas of the library building where patrons have access to things like a 3D printer or a laser cutter to be able to actually make things of their own. The Edmonton, Alberta public library includes an Espresso Book Machine (to print books on the spot) plus a green screen and audio video gear to make your own videos. Look into your local library and found out what they offer. Services vary from place to place, but it’s not all high-tech. Things like knitting, sewing, and even weaving cloth are also offered at some locations, and who knows what else?

I’m embarrassed that I didn’t know about all this. I suppose I’ve been too heavily focused on books.

Libraries still offer them, too. But the makerspaces not only provide opportunities to create books, and many other things, you can also learn skills from other people in person. Maybe that’s the key to their rapid rise in popularity. Notwithstanding book clubs and such, reading is mostly an individual activity, and we live in a society that’s enabling us to become increasingly isolated in a physical sense. More and more of our contacts with others take place electronically, at greater and greater distance.

The human animal has strong social instincts, and even though YouTube can be a terrific resource, there’s nothing quite like being able to learn a skill one-on-one, in person, from somebody who’s been there and done that. That’s really the way we were meant to learn. And the act of creation is one of the most satisfying things we can experience.

So hats off to makerspaces, helping to keep libraries relevant into the future. Hopefully I’ll get the chance to check one out soon.

I need to make more bookshelves.


(The excellent logo is from the Greater Sudbury Public Library in Ontario.)