I just read Seth Godin’s idea of The Future of Libraries and I like it. I am a long-time fan of libraries. Among my earliest memories are lunch periods in the library at my elementary school in California. The kids would be weaving with fat pieces of colorful yarn on cardboard looms or making crafts with tissue paper pressed around the end of a pencil then glued to construction paper. The librarian would be reading books to us. I can still recall her reading, in her Swedish accent, James and The Giant Peach. It almost makes my mouth water.
I think my local library system here in Virginia is doing pretty well moving down the path Seth Godin suggests. The four branches I’ve been to the most, especially the newest one and the recently remodeled one, have many computers. I haven’t used them but a couple of times because I have a computer at home and a laptop I can take out, but the library computers appear to be very popular. They have automated library procedures a lot too, so I pick up my own reserved books and then self-check them out.
But the books are actually not what I go to the library for the most. Far more often, my children and I go there to meet friends for classes and activities, or we attend special events. Occasionally, I still enjoy sitting down on the floor by the bookshelves to spend an hour reading books, but I don’t have time to do that very often anymore. I appreciate both paper and electronic data. I have been slow to accept the idea of the Kindle, but last year, when I discovered Amazon offers free books and a free Kindle program for PC or Mac, I tried it out, and I enjoyed it. You have to admit the internet is awesome when you think of how fast we can look up an answer to a question. I’ve never told my kids to wait until we can get to the library to get some books on that subject.
To take this a step further, here’s my wild idea. I have thought for a long time that schools should become more like libraries. I was thinking along similar lines as Seth Godin in this article. As homeschoolers, my kids are learning on their own timetable, dictated by their own interests, and the library and internet play roles in that. What if schools offered classes and activities like libraries do instead of tracking kids through based on age? Teachers could be like the librarians described by Godin. If schools were more free in this way, it would be better for everyone.