by Stan Cutler

In a generation, public libraries as we know them will not exist. They will have evolved as public media centers, not as book collections. Imagine a public library as a laboratory, a physical location where adaptations to new media are developed. Think of it as dynamic, evolving to exploit and defend against revolutionary technologies.

The print industry was at the heart of the Industrial Revolution, as disruptive as steam and electricity. Newspapers, universities, commerce, courts – every institution and organized enterprise was print-based. Public libraries were established to promote universal literacy, paid for with tax dollars and philanthropy as an essential community benefit. The ability to read print on paper was a personal attribute that was understood to be a civic requirement. In the schools, it was mandated.

Print is a medium for long-form messages and interconnected sequences of ideas. Old-style reading and writing are obsessively linear, the form imposed upon thought by the characteristics of written language. The form is being replaced by instantly available packets that are part image, part sound, part chunks of text. One of the challenges society faces, and therefore libraries face, is that the forms of e-media are not as conducive to long, linear thought.

The mission of the Free Library of Philadelphia is “to advance literacy, guide learning, and inspire curiosity. Its vision is to build an enlightened community devoted to lifelong learning.” Note that the word “book” does not appear. We, the Friends of the Chestnut Hill Library, volunteer and donate in support of FLP’s mission Specifically, we want to make sure that the building at 8711 Germantown Ave. evolves as a public media center, including books.

As innovative programs and new technologies are introduced, we want to make sure that library patrons continue as long-form readers. Old media don’t die; they evolve as part of new media ecologies. Scrolls evolved as illuminated manuscripts that evolved as printed bibles. Theater movies became TV shows. Radio became relevant in a different way after the introduction of TV . Books will always be with us. We seek to incorporate them into the evolving media ecosystem so that the great benefits of the older technology are not lost as we experiment with new ones.

If you bring a flash drive to the library on a Tuesday afternoon, you can plug it into a computer attached to a projector with LED bulbs and software capable of magnifying the drive’s content on a screen. That’s new media technology used to improve an old form – a chalkboard lecture. You should attend our Tuesday afternoon speakers’ series. Better yet, you should be one of the presenters. Time is running out before we select the speakers for the fall series. If you wish to submit a proposal, please go to the “Contact” menu at CHLibraryFriends.org

Stan Cutler is a member of the Friends of the Chestnut Hill Library board.

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