The evolution of libraries is an intriguing subject to me. In an era where we hear the words digital divide almost daily, I am dismayed by the fact that more attention is not paid to libraries as a potential key part of a solution. To me, libraries have always played a role in the “divide” whether analog or digital. Libraries were created as natural community centers, repositories of both the essential and uncommon tools of learning, creation and entertainment. At its base, a library has always been a community buying collaborative, a place to gain access to tools that would be impractical to buy for occasional use or unaffordable in general. Of course, the first tool was the book but that has evolved over time to include all sorts of things including music and video resources. Now, an essential component of the library ecosystem includes digital information access, hence the emergence over time of on-site personal computers.
Through it all, the unsung essential element has been the library staff. Ever at your service to teach you how to use the Dewey Decimal system or locate that rare physics book that explains Schrodinger’s cat, the librarian is the orchestrator and facilitator of the library universe. Much in the way that teachers were initially thrown into the technology vortex without any guidance, library staff is going through a similar transition. As we are now learning to help teachers and as next-generation libraries emerge, I advocate strongly for programs that help library staff gain digital skills so they can continue to serve their patrons with the same passion and expertise as before.
RI’s Office of Innovation has kicked off a program, Studio Rhode, sponsored by Apple, to generate ideas for programs designed to showcase the art of the possible for next-generation libraries here in RI. The Studio Rhode challenge is currently evaluating submissions from area libraries that will utilize the latest tools from Apple for a wide range of digital projects such as digital literacy, storytelling and art to name a few.
From the official program statements from the Office of Innovation:
The following are three essential elements of the Studio Rhode framework:
1. Community Concierge: The Community Concierge imagines a library that is shaped around the needs of all community members, regardless of ability, socioeconomic status, or age. Libraries need to use the experience they hope to provide to each user as the key driver of the design of both the physical and virtual space of the library. We believe this will create an open, inclusive, engaging, and interactive place for collaboration, driven by a clear understanding of user requirements, tools, and learning activities tailored to those needs.
2. Digital Creation Studio: Studio Rhode envisions the library as a place for members of the community to design, create, and share knowledge with next generation digital tools. Studio Rhode seeks to transform libraries into places to engage in crucial community building cornerstones in a 21st century way—by creating digital stories, new media, or using digital tools to develop new ideas in service of community or self.
3. New Tools: Studio Rhode libraries will leverage technology to support the creation of the Community Concierge and Digital Creation Studio. For example, Studio Rhode will provide community members with access to Apple hardware and a rich content ecosystem -- through the App Store, iBooks Store, iTunes U and iTunes -- and the tools to become content creators through Apple’s creativity and productivity apps. These tools are designed to be accessible to users of all ages and abilities. Using these tools, Studio Rhode will provide new learning experiences designed to engage users in developing the digital skills needed to lead as next generation innovators.
I am excited to see these projects emerge and will be reporting my findings as we move along. Libraries should be supported as the digital divide is never as simple as gaining access to Google search. OSHEAN is a supporter of the work at the Office of Innovation and I encourage this audience to learn more about their efforts. You can follow this program and all the projects of the office at http://www.innovate.ri.gov