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The future of the library

Adam Travis / The Brunswickan

Adam Travis / The Brunswickan

Later this fall, Halifax will be opening its new public library. The $57.6-million project is set to feature a 300-seat theatre, cafes, areas where people can play video games, two music studios and rooftop patio.

Oh, and some books as well.

The new library is a clear attempt to try and re-engage the public in a world where people have all the information they need at their fingertips. Instead of becoming an ancient idea, libraries — and librarians — are exploring different ways to be part of that connection between people and learning.

“Libraries have always been about connecting people to the information that they need — we just now do it differently,” said Leslie Balcom, interim director of libraries at UNB. Balcom said that there has been a noticeable difference when it comes to how students are using libraries, and just like in Halifax, there is a level of excitement with the changing of the times and the possibilities that it brings.

“At UNB we have moved from acquiring our collections in print to licensing resources for students electronically. We still buy lots of books in print, but our new material is more likely to be purchased as an electronic journal or an e-book,” she said.

The library now has access to 40,000 journals electronically as opposed to the 2,500 they have in print. Along with this, there has been an effort to make library space more comfortable and appealing to students.

“Libraries are not exclusively about stacks for books and quiet seats. We’re seeing spaces created for students to work both independently but also in groups with access to technology and specialized help,” said Balcom.

And the changes will continue. While there are no rooftop patios or gaming centres planned, UNB is trying to bring new features to its libraries. At the Harriet Irving Library, an area on the third floor is currently being converted from stacks to more student seating. The cafe has been expanded and around the library there will be more areas or students to study or read.

For a university library, the landscape has changed from being a place where students go to get the information they need for their schoolwork to a place where they go to get
that work done.

Balcom says that while public and university libraries have a lot in common, their purposes are different. “Our users are often looking for different types of spaces, help and resources,” she said. The ultimate goal for the library, though, is to help students. “We’re always working on new ways to ensure that students have access the way they want it to our resources and our support.”

There is no telling where information technology will go from here, and how people will
handle it, but it seems that in some capacity or another, libraries will be involved.

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