Reboot Your Library…or Die

Strategy + Business Magazine, the publication of consultants Booz & Company, has recently published a fantastic article called “The Library Rebooted.” (Free registration is required to view the entire article.)

It reports on the success of several different libraries surviving in a world where doing your own research is becoming easier and easier. In each case, these libraries have redefined what it means to be a library.


When I was in library school (not that long ago, mind you) the prevailing concern was whether or not libraries should put in a cafe to attract patrons. Seeing the popularity of coffee shops at Barnes & Noble, Borders and other well-liked bookstores made libraries want to follow in their footsteps. In fact, there are several things about these bookstores that libraries considered adopting, including the way they organize their collections, their marketing models and inviting patrons to sit, relax and read in comfy chairs. 

In this age of digitization and Googling for research, libraries have to go even further to adapt to patrons’ needs and become a destination. The S+B article looks at this from a business perspective, and outlines these seven imperatives for library leadership

  • Rethink the Operating Model
  • Understand and Respond to User Needs
  • Embrace the Concept of Continuous Innovation
  • Forge a Digital Identity
  • Connect With Stakeholders in Ways Pure Internet Companies Cannot
  • Expand the Metrics
  • Be Courageous

This last point is probably the most important and the most challenging. It’s so much easier not to change at all and to maintain a sort of pride in “being traditional.” The article leaves the last point open-ended, saying that there are many ways to be courageous, and many paths to follow. And it doesn’t really matter which path it is, as long as there is one, and people are willing to take risks.

Some examples from the article of the ways libraries are “rebooting” are:

  • The Bronx Library Center providing shopping baskets, prominently displaying DVDs, CDs and illustrated novels, and providing programs relevant to the community.
  •  The Stanford University Library creating a virtual presence in Second Life.
  • The British Library digitizing some of their most awe-inspiring items using Turning the Pages software, accompanied by the curator’s commentary.

The article ends with sidebars from NYPL’s Paul LeClerc, who explains how NYPL is implementing changes that will help boost foot traffic in their research branches,  and Stephen Schwartzman, who donated millions of dollars to the NYPL so that they could make some of these changes.

Schwartzman ends his commentary thus:

“One of the extraordinary things about the NYPL — about any public library, really — is that it is free. There isn’t much in life that is free, let alone the services of a great institution. All you have to do is walk in the front door — it’s accessible to anyone. That’s a pretty neat thing.”

It IS neat, Stephen.


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