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The Modern Library: Don't build it for me!

The Westgate branch of the Ann Arbor District Library (AADL) had its official reopening celebration over the weekend. I unfortunately was unable to attend due to a football related medical issue with my son (he is fine). While we were at the Mott ER, he watched cartoons and I was looking at some photos a friend had sent out on Facebook from the celebration. Looking at the interior photos it was interesting to see a library space that was so different from the library of my childhood.

Libraries are no longer just places for books. They are no longer just a place to access the knowledge contained in books. Most of the information in books and magazines is available through the web. People can now purchase and download their recreational reading to their phones. That does not mean that the library is obsolete, or that a strong print collection isn’t needed any more. It means libraries have changed. They have changed not in their mission, but in response to the technological revolution. A library is an interesting juxtaposition of thinking. On one side a library must now be a nimble and quickly adaptive entity, keeping up with advances in technology, software, and the virtual space. At the same time, the library remains a community meeting space and one of the most traditional pillars of our communities. Places where people come together and share ideas, talk, be with family, and interact with one another.

I am so impressed with the new Westgate facility at the AADL. I had coffee with my family at Sweetwaters shortly after the opening. We had a snack and sat together at a table in the library having food and drink. I did some work on my laptop, my wife was helping manage my campaign through her phone, and my son went to the reference desk to see about checking out some book he couldn’t get through his school. The space was open, inviting, had lots of power available, and was a perfect mix of print collections and communal spaces to be in the virtual space as well.

We were not alone. Two men seemed to be having a business meeting on their laptops to our right, and a group of schoolteachers was meeting to discuss something a little further out in the library. Children were playing, and there was a beautiful quiet (not completely) chaos to the whole thing. The library was very much alive. It was fluid in its use and responded to changes in needs seamlessly as different stakeholders came and went. As we look to the future of our libraries and our libraries footprint, we have to continue to want to marry the future with the past. Not only do we have to adapt our technological and print infrastructure in new ways, but we also have to adapt our facilities in new ways. We have to adapt our own paradigms for what a library is and should be.

As I approach 40 this year, I look at my teenaged adult children and how they use technology. I look at my 10 year old and the ways that he works to access information and understand the world. As I look at us together I realize we all have different needs and will probably continue to have different expectations about this for the rest of our lives. I think that this is fine. They do and will continue to build their worldview through technology. They will continue to access information both social and intellectual in ways I fail, and will continue to fail, to understand. That said, I want a library in my community that can be a relevant resource to all of us. I want a library that looks towards the future and in doing so looks past my needs to the needs of my kids and eventually their kids. I want a library that puts sustainable relevance among its top priorities.

I am so impressed with the new Westgate AADL space. It really represents the type of forward thinking understanding of the modern library that we need. As a community we now need to begin to focus on ensuring that all of our AADL spaces both brick-and mortar and virtual, have the resources and support needed to provide this same amazing environment. I want to thank the AADL staff for the planning and execution of the new Westgate facility. I hope I can be a part of expanding this great work to our other branches and communities.

Dr. Steven Simpson is currently the President of Baker College of Jackson and is seeking a position on the Ann Arbor District Library Board of Trustees in the November 2016 election. Additional information about Dr. Simpson and his candidacy can be found at You can reach Dr. Simpson at, or on Twitter@simpsonaadl.

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