An innovative course yields new products, services, and experiences that model the possible future of libraries.
by Jonathan Shaw:
“WHAT IF YOU THOUGHT seriously about the library as a laboratory, as a place where people do things, where they make things?” asks Jeffrey Schnapp, addressing his “Library Test Kitchen” class. Libraries as centers of knowledge and learning have a rich history—but an uncharted future. The digital revolution, besides changing the nature of books, is transforming the role of libraries in preserving and disseminating information. “What if the Library of Congress were to become a digital library?” continues Schnapp. “What, then, is the role of the physical public library? This is a source of enormous anxiety at the local level because public libraries” face increasing political pressure, including budget cuts, but “play absolutely fundamental civic roles, often as the only public space that remains in smaller communities.”
"By semester’s end, the brainstorming sessions had generated dozens of good ideas, and a few had become student projects: Biblio, a conceptualization of a hand-held device for scanning books that tracks and shares research and even makes bibliographic recommendations for further study (see the online video); Timeslice, a “graphical electronic bulletin board” that lets library users post event announcements to a community calendar that incorporates digital graphics; Neo-Carrel, a study chair with a raised platform in front that doubles as a laptop stand and a comfortable place to rest one’s head for a nap (now installed in Lamont library); and a WiFi cold spot, a radically designed room for reflection or refuge from an increasingly connected world.
“We think this is an opportunity to be real catalysts for thoughtful change that can’t easily come from other quarters,” explains Schnapp. “Because we’re not librarians, but instead a community of artists, scholars, engineers—people interested in knowledge—we come at the questions a little bit differently. So we think we can be innovative and breathe some fresh air into a conversation that often is about how many jobs are going to be cut, or what will happen to all the space that is freed up once the stacks move out to the Harvard Depository. That’s a conversation that may have to happen, but it would be a tragedy if that were the only framework in which we thought about the possibilities for enhancing the mission of libraries.”
Via Patrick Provencher