New technologies transform public library
Public libraries have traditionally served as welcoming places and common ground for people of all ages and backgrounds. In urban centers and neighborhoods, remote rural locales or sprawling suburbs, good libraries serve as civic anchors to their communities. Additionally, new technologies are extending the reach and impact of public libraries. Technology draws new patrons who might otherwise shy away from the library by making access to information even more convenient.
The problem is renovating what usually are beloved, and sometimes historic, buildings to accommodate modern technology. In Montclair, N.J., for example, in deference to the library building’s status as a community landmark, architects had to renovate in a manner that minimized the impact of the changes on the two most public faces of the building.
The renovation, by The Hillier Group, a Princeton, N.J.-based architectural firm, revived the original light-filled, open-planning concepts. The group also updated lighting, finishes and furnishings to reflect the new emphasis on computer resources and the resulting increased service demands on the staff.
When the library was constructed in 1956, it used an IBM automated library system, the first of its kind. The 22,000-square-foot addition and 33,000-square-foot renovation project continued in the traditions of innovative infor mation technology. Bell Atlantic funded new interactive distance learning technology, which allows users to participate in programs from nearby educational facilities.
Computer resources are no longer centralized in the new library. Patrons now have access to the online catalog, special CD-ROM materials and the Internet within multiple areas, providing specialized information on topics such as music, law and business entrepreneurship and “real-time” market and business research.
Similar computer centers were designed in the young adult’s area and the children’s library. Networked computer workstations are located in clusters around each public service desk – a strategy that integrates electronic resources with all traditional print collections, and allows patrons to download information and perform word-processing and printing functions practically anywhere. The design also provides convenient expert help in a way that makes efficient use of library staff.
Additionally, the Montclair library has established both electronic and direct support service links to other organizations. It provides on- and off-site literacy and tutoring programs and has online connections with approximately half of the schools in the school system, as well as with the nearby Bloomfield Public Library and two county libraries. The library also has developed cooperative programs with the Townships Parks and Recreation Department and Montclair State University.
By accommodating computer technology and integrating useful programs, the Montclair public library has strengthened its ties to its community and become more relevant to residents. The library draws a more diverse mix of users by improving the basic library functions and by providing an inexpensive and convenient outlet for all patrons to access new technology.