And in designing future public libraries, we do need to turn to the wisdom and insights of architects. Architects need to design public libraries for purposes we haven't imagined yet. In other words, public libraries of the future need to be immensely flexible in how their space is used. Probably all furniture needs to be on wheels. Meeting rooms will need exterior doors, so they can be used when the library is closed.
Then again, maybe public libraries should never be closed. In an information-based economy where knowledge workers drive almost all innovation, shouldn't the public knowledge place be open seven days a week? If 7-Eleven and FedEx Office and McDonald's can stay open 24 hours a day, is it not possible for libraries to do so, too? This might seem like a pipe dream under current budget challenges, but maybe we don't need to live within the boundaries of those challenges. Where there is a will, there is a way.
New ideas create new jobs. Public libraries create new ideas. Public libraries are places where ideas are remixed. How can we facilitate more and better remixing of ideas in public libraries? Do we need to design hacker spaces to be part of future public libraries? What if the Dayton Public Library had a "tinkerer's room" set up as part of the library and that anyone in the community could submit a proposal for possible uses of the tinkerer's room? Well, in 1901, the Wright Brothers might have used that room to set up their first wind tunnel. And they would have invited other community members to see their thinking and to contribute their own ideas to the conquest of flight. The great moment of insight, the day when the Wright Brothers understood that wing warping was the secret to flight, could have been a shared community moment - right there at the public library.
I'd sure be interested in knowing the names of the people who founded the original Dayton Public Library, back in 1805. They set in motion a culture of curiosity that culminated in the invention of the airplane. And that culture of curiosity exists to this very day in Dayton. Are we doing enough to uncover and encourage it?
Here's what we need to think about in 2010 as we embark upon the journey of digital public libraries. What can we set in motion today that might bear fruit in 2020, 2030, 2040, and 2050? How can we extend the traditional role of public libraries, giving access to books and magazines, in whole new ways? Is the purpose of public libraries to celebrate the human imagination in all ways? Is the purpose of public libraries to enable self-education in a solitary way or in a communal way - or both? What can we expect to happen if our nation does not have a national transition plan for public libraries?