The evolving role of libraries

Sunday, May 01, 2005

In a global economy driven by knowledge, the role of our public libraries is also going to shift. Here's an example.

In Arizona, the public library system has launched the Economic Development Information Centers Project. This is a statewide effort to that includes both public and community college libraries. These libraries provide a network of information and resources that can support business development. Read more.

That's only part of the story. Public libraries provide at least five roles in our emerging knowledge economy.

1. Family reading
The ability to read represents a critical threshold skill in the knowledge economy. Yet, as a country, we have not done all that well in teaching people to read. In Ohio, for example, 45% of our population reads at the lowest two levels of literacy.

2. Safe Internet exploration
Because it is so easily accessible, the Internet is a natural medium for continuous learning. Users can access information at any time or any place. They can continue their learning whenever they have free time and are in the mood to learn something new. They do not have to conform to a classroom schedule, and they can explore an unlimited number of topics

3. Career orientation
Young people need to be prepared for multiple careers in their lifetime. Finding and using information is one skill that will cross career boundaries. As young people explore potential careers, our libraries will become increasingly important to orient us to the latest careers. In the past, we relied on high school counsellors to provide most career guidance. But this system does not work well enough. Many high school counsellors are responsible for as many as 200 or 300 students.

4. Entrepreneur support
Our economic growth will increasingly depend on innovation and networks of entrepreneurs. The Arizona initiative fits in here.

5. Civic learning
Community leaders can no depend on the federal government to provide leadership in economic development. Increasingly, this leadership will come from within our communities and regions. In the past, leadership in our communities came from a selected few individuals. Now, however, vibrant communities and regions engage scores of community leaders to support economic development initiatives. Everyone from pre-school teachers to top business executives has a stake in the future of our communities.

posted by Ed Morrison |

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