I was exploring the Brooklyn Botanic Garden two weeks ago, thinking about how nice it would be return with my Kindle for some grassy reading, when it dawned on me that we now have the opportunity to totally rethink how we use libraries, and what a ‘library’ actually is.
Libraries haven’t changed much since the Library of Alexandria in ancient Egypt - they still exist as physical spaces crammed with shelves of books that bring people together to devour knowledge. This model has worked pretty well for the past few thousand years (except perhaps for the fact that Julius Caesar accidentally burned that one down), but today, thanks to the digital world and mobile internet, knowledge has been detached from paper and can be called upon anywhere.
This paradigm shift of ‘knowledge in the cloud’ presents the opportunity for us to rethink how we use libraries, and public space in general. I propose the following:
- Instead of local and federal governments spending money acquiring new books, they begin to shift libraries onto e-readers, striking a deal with publishers to grant those within the library walls unlimited access to their entire catalog of books (whether the person is on their own device or a library-owned one). Access rights could be managed through the library Wi-Fi network.
- Governments then use these ‘unlimited reading licenses’ purchased from publishers to spread open reading access to other public spaces as well, perhaps parks and public transportation, creating a whole new way to experience public space.
In this scheme everyone wins: governments would spend less on maintenance and incent the use of public space, publishers could entice people to buy more books by allowing them to ‘sample’ it in libraries, and everyone would have access to vastly more knowledge than any single library could ever hold.
There are massive opportunities here beyond what I’ve outlined, to retool libraries into spaces that can also accommodate other cultural experiences – perhaps facilitating the display of art and music – while at the same time keeping alive the best part of the library experience: social learning.
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Juventas Fugit is designed and written by Justin Wohlstadter, who, when not writing in the third person, can be found in a coffee shop talking about startups, thinking about the future of education, and generally procrastinating something important.
- Passions: startups that positively affect the world, education innovation, good design, learning, and meeting those with an equally insatiable curiosity.
- Play: building new ways for people to connect and explore knowledge at Wayfinder.
- Previously: was director of product design at Enterproid (acquired by Google). Before that I built the early-stage venture arm of Penny Black and co-founded BOLDstart Ventures, where I was lucky enough to invest in some awesome startups including Rapportive (acquired by Linkedin), Blaze (acquired by Akamai), GoInstant (acquired by Salesforce), Klout (acquired by Lithium), Enterproid (acquired by Google), IndieGoGo and many more. And before all of this I was involved in a bunch of other crazy, less successful startup ventures involving fire extinguishers, measuring philanthropic impact, and creative spaces.
- Pedantry: most of the important stuff I taught myself or learned from friends, but I’m fortunate to have also (barely received) degrees from Harvard and Oxford. At Oxford I wrote my dissertation on how internet innovation will disrupt access to higher education.
- Procrastination: can be found on Twitter, Linkedin, AngelList and other web spaces, and be reached via email at my first name at this domain.