I was struck by a recent article, How a New Dutch Library Smashed Attendance Records, by Cat Johnson at the online site Shareable, which nicely highlighted the potential of libraries as community centres.
This was striking to me mainly because I view libraries in Bermuda as being an opportunity missed. I realise, though, much of it has to do with constrained budgets ($2.1 million in the 2014/2015 budget and probably lower still in the current year). In contrast, the Dutch clearly had ample funding available to them when devising a new approach to their library.
Designers of the Dutch library, Nieuwe Bibliotheek, took the tack of treating it as retail space. A brilliant notion, in my opinion. Books are grouped by interest or topic, whether fiction or non-fiction. They are outward facing, as in a bookstore, encouraging you to browse. There's a cafe and comfortable sofas, in addition to the usual tables and chairs. Most important, the library is supported by a continuing programme of events. It is a destination with several reasons for you to visit, and visitors is exactly what Nieuwe Bibliotheek gets: 100,000 people in the first two months of its opening in 2010.
Can we do more in Bermuda? Probably. 'More' would involve a space that combined the childrens' library facility with the adult library. That way, parents and children could enjoy the facility together. It would have a 'drop in' centre element to it too. Legal clinics, for example, or job search services and the like could be based at the library. If you were thinking of where to meet up with a friend, the library would be one automatic option. Branches? Sure, in Somerset and St. George's.
Are there summer job or after school work opportunities at my ideal library? Yes, absolutely. Instilling in our youth a love of reading is so important. Even the teen that's too cool for his shirt can disguise his love of books as a job.
An exhibit area or two would allow our many community groups to have a place and space for their message. Do you know what Transition Bermuda is doing? Have you heard of PechaKucha Nights?
Of course, you'll need to eat too, and a farm to table cafe would be amazing.
Are we doing any of this now? We might be. I have not been inspired to check out our library in years, and I'm a reader. However, I know we do have librarians who are a veritable fount of information. So let's build on that to create a greater connection to the community and make our library a vibrant place to be. As a centre of learning, an excellent library should not require debate.
What do you think?