Libraries cultivate connections, community and more in the digital age

technology / Article

September 15, 2014 by Anthony Marx


Knight News Challenge: Libraries offers applicants a chance to share in $2.5 million by focusing on the question, “How might we leverage libraries as a platform to build more knowledgeable communities?” Below, Anthony Marx, president and CEO of the New York Public Library, a previous winner of the News Challenge, writes about the evolving role of libraries. Photo: Kids using digital media aboard the NYPL's Digital Bookmobile, via Flickr.

Libraries are the community learning spaces and hubs of civil society. They continue to be where more Americans go more than anywhere else, to read, to think, to write and to create. The bottom third of society depend upon their libraries for books, computers, quiet and expertise, and libraries have never been used more. 

The digital age seems to have only increased the appetite for such civic learning space, and in the information age nothing could be more powerful than bringing together access to all the world’s ideas and images together with the full diversity of the populace’s talent. The library is that place. In New York, the public libraries receive 40 million physical visits per year, more than all the museums and professional sporting teams combined.

Related Links

"Can research libraries adapt to live up to their potential?" by Bernard Reilly (9/12/14) "Finding the sweet spot for libraries in the digital age" by Jill Bourne on Knight Blog (9/11/14) 

"Knight News Challenge: Libraries opens for entries" by John Bracken on Knight Blog (9/10/14)

"Why Libraries [Still] Matter" by Jonathan Zittrain on Medium (9/10/14)

"News Challenge to explore role of libraries in the digital age" by John Bracken on Knight Blog (8/25/14)

Libraries will be even more crucial going forward. They will be the only place we all gather to be and think and work together, while society otherwise splinters apart. They will be the community learning center for all ages, providing everything from after-school programs to English language and citizenship classes, to computer skills—including coding—and other classes as needed locally and not available anywhere else for free. And we will still be the institution committed to free access to information, that crucial ingredient of economic prosperity, a healthy democracy and a vibrant society. In today’s digital world, everyone should be able to connect to all the world’s information. Only the library is uniquely positioned to ensure that this vision is truly realized.

Libraries are thriving today because they are always evolving. Indeed, many of the hallmarks of what makes a great community library today didn’t exist mere decades ago: computer access, self-service check out, expansive educational programming and more. We have much to applaud in the innovations that are embedded in today’s libraries, and, accordingly, we share an obligation to identify and build on our successes. We are so excited about Knight Foundation’s latest important challenge to help inspire even more innovation.

New York Public Library by Taku on Flickr

New York Public Library Main Reading Room via Taku on Flickr.

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