#BackToSchool — The Role of Libraries in Neighborhood Innovation

| Aimee Sprung

Teen Central at Boston Public Library opened in February 2015. | Photo via bpl.org

In August, I was driving home from a beach vacation with my family. We were crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in Maryland.  If you haven’t crossed that bridge before, it is very high and the view is spectacular. My kids asked, “Is this the longest bridge in the US?” Before I could answer, my nephew promptly pulled out his phone and began searching for statistics for “longest bridge.”

I couldn’t help but reflect on the amazing power to conduct research from a phone or a computer (For the record, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge is 23 miles long and is the second longest bridge in the US after the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway in Louisiana.). When I was in school, I had to use the library for all of my projects and papers.  Now, most content students need for research is available online.

So where does that leave our libraries?

I recently visited the Boston Public Library.  David Leonard, the Director of Administration and Technology and the recently named Interim President, gave me a tour of the newly renovated Children’s and Teen libraries and shared the vision for phase 2 of the remodel that will include an evolution of the business library to support small businesses and more. The Boston Public Library can play a central role in neighborhood innovation and here are the reasons why:

  1. Branch Libraries are already located in the neighborhoods.  While many innovation resources in Boston are predominantly located in the Innovation/Seaport District and Kendall Square, libraries are evenly distributed across all neighborhoods of Boston, providing equitable access to all residents, all races and ethnicities and all income levels.
  1. Librarians are skilled educators with a passion for information and technology.  As the guides to all of the resources a library may contain, I can think of no one better than a librarian to help students and adults to learn more about technology and innovation.
  1. Reliable internet access through computers at the library and loaner devices.  Some neighborhoods in Boston still exist without consistent internet access and the city is home to many historical buildings that are not WiFi friendly.  While we can’t assume that all Boston residents have internet access, they do have access to a branch library.  Libraries are a reliable, convenient way for residents to gain access to the internet and as a result access to everything from Facebook and Twitter to online training and permits as needed.

All of these reasons in mind, the potential for greater equity of access to training, maker spaces, permits and resources for small businesses and startups is huge.  Some of my favorite demonstrations of innovative neighborhood initiatives through libraries include:

The Mix at the San Francisco Public Library – The Mix is a 4,770 square foot digital literacy lab for youth ages 13-18, housed within San Francisco’s Main Library. It was designed by the San Francisco Public Library’s Board of Advising Youth (BAY), a committee comprised of local high school and college students. Learn more about The Mix here.

Chattanooga – Chattanooga Public Library’s 4th floor – The 4th floor is a public laboratory and educational facility with a focus on information, design, technology, and the applied arts. The more than 12,000 sq foot space hosts equipment, expertise, programs, events, and meetings that work within this scope. While traditional library spaces support the consumption of knowledge by offering access to media, the 4th floor is unique because it supports the production, connection, and sharing of knowledge by offering access to tools and instruction. http://chattlibrary.org/4th-floor

Maker Day at Chattanooga Library, via http://chattlibrary.org/

Chicago – YOUmedia Chicago is an innovative, 21st century teen digital learning space at 11 Chicago Public Library locations. With an emphasis on digital media and the maker movement, teens engage in projects across a variety of core content areas including graphic design, photography, video, music, 2D/3D design, STEM and hands-on making. http://www.chipublib.org/youmedia-teens/

via chipublib.org

If you have not visited the BPL Central library in Copley, I highly recommend a visit to the new Teen and Children’s libraries – they are just remarkable.  Share your photos with me via twitter (@asprung) as I see something new every time I’m there. I look forward to watching the Boston Public Library evolve and supporting their programs to reach more residents in all neighborhoods across Boston.

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