Many of the technologies that we depend on today are the product of a dynamic blend of experimentation, collaboration, and a judicious amount of risk-taking. Embracing that spirit, the DC Public Library (DCPL) has created its new Digital Commons to showcase some of the most cutting-edge software and hardware with the goal of stimulating exploration, innovation, and economic development. At the launch event last Wednesday, which featured comments by DC Deputy Mayor Hoskins and a number of other local luminaries, the excitement among the assembled crowd of library lovers and regular patrons was obvious.
Located on the first floor of DCPL’s flagship branch, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library, this newly-renovated space replaces the light-blocking stacks that once housed the library’s business, science, and technology collections with low tables and clear partitions that maximize the openness of the building’s historic Mies van der Rohe design. The abundant natural light provided by the floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides lends the center a modern feel befitting its new equipment and aspirational goals.
As soon as the ribbon was cut, many made a dash toward two of the most novel pieces of technology featured in the Digital Commons: a 3-D printer busy turning raw plastic into a multi-faceted model of the Washington monument and an Espresso book machine so new that a demonstration was not yet available. While these devices will obviously fuel the creative passions of aspiring makers and self-publishers, the new space also addresses the very practical needs of patrons, young and old, that depend on no-fee access to fast computers with high-speed Internet connections and up-to-date software. More than 70 PCs and iMacs will serve those researching topics for school and work, accessing vital government services, searching for jobs, taking online classes, editing video, creating websites and apps, forging professional connections, and staying in touch with friends and family.
Acknowledging the evolving nature of today’s tech world, a “device bar” will allow visitors to get hands-on with the latest tablets and e-readers while other stations walk patrons through the process of downloading books, magazines, and music in digital formats. A Skype station and a videophone tailored to the needs of individuals who depend on American Sign Language further illustrate the library’s commitment to utilizing all available technologies to foster meaningful communication.
Though the assemblage of hardware and software is quite impressive, perhaps the most significant resource provided by the Digital Commons is an educated and engaged library staff. Easily identifiable in their blue DCPL polo shirts, this enthusiastic group was ready and willing to answer questions, to convey information about all of the available devices and services offered in the Digital Commons, and to direct patrons toward troubleshooting advice. Just as their passion for books has helped librarians inspire countless generations of avid readers and lifelong learners, the helpful faces in the Digital Commons will be essential to bridging the gap between users and unfamiliar technologies. By providing the right combination of access to cutting-edge tools and digital literacy training, the DCPL’s new space should provide fertile ground on which to cultivate the businesses and technologies of tomorrow.