The Future of Libraries

Besides lending books, the local institutions are training young journalists, renting garden plots and more

(Brooklyn Public Library)
smithsonian.com

Libraries have been around for nearly 5,000 years, and sometimes it seems like they haven’t changed much since, at least in the public imagination. You know: hushed, slightly musty spaces smelling of old paper, presided over by the stereotypical ancient librarian.

But public libraries today are actually doing an enormous amount to meet 21st-century needs. A recent contest sponsored by the Knight Foundation awarded shares of a $1.6 million prize to 14 winners who came up with the best, most innovative ideas for helping libraries better serve their changing communities. Here’s a roundup of some of our favorite ideas from the contest, along with several other cool ways libraries are changing with the times.

Training students as community journalists

Another Knight Foundation prize winner, this project aims to launch a community journalism class for local high schoolers at the Dallas Public Library. The class, which operates in partnership with the Dallas Morning News, partners students with professional journalists and librarians as mentors, training them to use library resources in the service of journalism and nonfiction writing. The project’s founders hope the training will make students more engaged in their communities and help spread the (dying, according to many) art of quality journalism.

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