Libraries are important. There’s specific irony in me saying this, as I haven’t had a functional library card in about 5 years, and I haven’t borrowed anything from a library myself in about 4. But I remember what having a local library meant to me when I was younger, and I know what a library would mean to me now, if it was designed in a way that let me learn how I see fit. So, this is how I would design a 2013 library.
I’d keep the shelves and stacks, and keep a modified version of the dewer decimal - based lookup system that has been a constant in my life. I’d also duplicate it. A physical collection of key works and classics would be available on the lower floors, but there would also be an expanded digital selection above - imagine a selection of eReaders organized in a library style shelf, but instead of a book, you would pick up a device pre loaded with the entire history of an author. Or with a curated selection of an entire genre or knowledge area. Instead of loose references, links would drive you to a map of where to find the next volume.
Checkout would be automatic for physical books, and members could check out digital documents in an eReader (to be picked up, pre-loaded with your selected material, at the front desk) that would hold a 1-month charge. If the battery dies, you bring it back - setting a tighter timeline feels unnecessary, and ignores the truth - people will pirate or buy the stuff they aren’t willing to let go of.
Library cards would be RFID based, if only to ensure that no one can access the higher levels without a passcard, and to let library employees know when the guy who has a dozen eReaders currently checked out has stopped by. At a certain point, losses will happen, With cheaper eReaders clocking in at prices not too different from a large, high quality hardcover, I wouldn’t consider this a priority.
Connectivity would be a must, but I’d recommend it be limited to specific work stations, and to a wifi network that (outside) mobile devices could connect to. Libraries are, in part, about information in an isolated context. If people just wanted the internet, they’d stay home.
I’d dedicate an entire floor to periodicals - either print or entire archives dumped onto full colour tablets, or desk bound touch screens. Paper is important, though - the more physical copies the better, with digital stepping in to supply an option for rare, or fragile documents.
I’d have a ‘collaboration floor’, probably either at the very bottom, or very top, of the building. Heavily soundproofed, with enough large tables, whiteboards, and vending machines filled with markers, notebooks, post-its, etc. If a city was looking for a place to put entrepreneurs-in-residence, or mentors, this would be a logical start.
And plugs. Plugs everywhere, in the top of desks, in the side of lounge chairs, not just against walls or in one corner.
A library used to be a repository of knowledge - then your cellphone became a repository of knowledge. I’d argue the next step is to make them a place of learning and collaboration, of depth rather than breadth, and of creation rather than consumption.
Or maybe It’s been too long since I was in a library.