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Contemporary Libraries from Helsinki to San Francisco are reshaping their place in Society

– Posted in: Lifelong Learning Positive Ageing
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If I lived in Helsinki, I would be a daily visitor to Oodi, the city’s cool new library/living room. If I lived in the US, I would seek out libraries that would help me navigate the world of senior dating. Wherever I lived in the world, I’d order a Little Free Library and start my own local buzz.

Here are three models that show how libraries today are reinventing themselves in this digitally dominant world and finding innovative ways to respond to a very basic need to feel the human touch in communications.

Oodi is the ultra-modern, ultra-collaborative library in the heart of Helsinki that the state of Denmark gifted to the city to celebrate the state’s centenary. It is described as a transformative, multi-functional space defying any notion of the library as a dated public institution. Architecturally it is beautifully intriguing, somewhat like a ship’s hull, and its elegant lines of wood, glass and steel draw you in to discover more.

Tiny Tots to Grannies

You have never seen a library like this. It has three floors. The ground level is a mutable community activity center. The day I was there it was an art day – artists were teaching their craft to people of all ages from tiny tots to grannies who were drawing, painting and proudly displaying their creations on vast panels.

 

 

The second floor is a creator’s paradise.  It offers the most amazing collection of collaborative facilities, tools and equipment… from 3D printers and sewing machines, studios for film and music makers to meeting rooms, work spaces, virtual reality experiences. There is also an area with three broad undulating steps where you can meet, relax and charge your digital devices.  I loved the rocking chairs in one corner and enjoyed seeing a circle of women knitting and chatting away.  It made me think of my friend Kim in Colorado who belonged to a  weekly knitting circle and swore by the benefits it procured for the knitters – “we just sit and knit and shoot the sh…”.

The third floor is where you find traditional library services with 100,000 books on the beautiful shelves and access to 3 million more through the library’s advanced service system.

Visiting this space is exhilarating, stimulating and an invitation to engagement.

Libraries helping Boomers meet

Talking about “engagement,” First Avenue posted a very interesting article about how local libraries are responding to literally thousands of baby boomers who don’t want to walk through their older years alone.  So what’s to be done?

Some libraries are providing practical help by offering short courses on dating.  One example is in White Oak Library District where a regular two-hour dating class, entitled “Dating Over 50: Have Fun, Be Safe”, is offered.

A further example is the Darien Library in Darien, Conn., where associate director of programs and services, Mallory Arents, has been running an annual e-dating class since 2016. She launches her presentations to single older adults with screenshots of niche dating sites, such as Farmers Only. 

She says, “I like to make sure people understand there is something for everyone.”

First Avenue found that since cost is also an important consideration, the librarians made a point of reviewing the pros and cons of the most popular and user-friendly free dating sites, such as OK Cupid, as well as paid ones, including MatchE-Harmony and Our Time.

In addition to demystifying online dating as a concept, part of the demand for this type of programming comes from difficulties some older singles encounter when trying to set up a personal profile or download an app.

“The tech-knowledge gap is significant in this population,” explains Zsasha Cubero, former technology support specialist at the Westport Library in Westport, Conn. In her experience, older patrons were regularly stopping by her desk seeking assistance with a phone or tablet their kids or grandkids had given to them, but which they struggled to use.

First Avenue suggests that patrons shouldn’t hesitate to ask questions of what she calls “the information professionals” at their local library.

“Every reference librarian is trained in helping folks navigate our digital space: online dating included!” she says.

90,000 Little Free Libraries in 91 countries and their impact is increasing

When the late Todd Bol first had the idea to create a little free library in 2009, he set one up in front of his house to see if his idea would fly, and it certainly did. In just 10 years more than 90 000 Little Free Libraries (LFL) have found a niche in more than 91 countries.

Today, LFL is delving deeper than simple book exchanges by encouraging the formation of Action Book Clubs based on the belief that books can inspire you to make the world a better place, starting in your own neighborhood.

The Action Book Club differs from the traditional book club in that it invites participants to read books on current events, to engage in lively discussions, and to take part in meaningful – and fun – group service projects to benefit their communities.  The theme is Moving Forward and suggested reading lists are provided for children, young adults and mature readers. Get involved here.

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