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.

Making 3D printing available to everyone

At the Cleveland Public Library, patrons can use the library’s 3D printer to print out their own designs, paying just a small fee for the plastic used. As 3D printing becomes more popular, yet machines remain inaccessibly expensive for the average American, services like this have become more common. The Cleveland library also offers workshops in 3D printing to introduce the technique to people with no previous experience. 

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