Libraries adapt to meet demands of Internet age

Thu Jun 23, 2011 1:03pm EDT
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By Richard Chang

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Libraries in the Internet age have morphed from somber institutions into social hubs for job seekers, small business owners and local residents looking for advice, help or a free meeting place.

The bespectacled librarian has been replaced by a hip, tech-savvy social networker and as books have gone digital, freeing space, cafes have sprung up in libraries, along with rooms for classes, gaming, talks and performances.

"The whole thing about the silent shushing librarian is no longer a reality," said Nader Qaimari, of Cengage Learning, which provides teaching and learning materials to educational institutions and libraries.

"The new librarian has been on Facebook or Twitter longer than you or I have. They're the most socially connected people I've ever met."

With so much information online, librarians have become free guides to learning and are often the first people job seekers turn to if they have no computer at home. During the recession libraries have become centers for career counseling, financial literacy and small business development.

"We're not trying to compete with Google. Google answers more questions in one afternoon than all the public libraries in a year," said Bill Ptacek, director of the King County Library System in Washington state.

"We look at our role as a content provider to our community."

In New York City, public libraries have never been busier. Annual visits exceed 16 million, the highest in a century, according to Ann Thornton, acting director of the New York Public Libraries.   Continued...