Merriam-Webster needs to update its definition of “library.” Currently, a library is defined as “ a place in which literary, musical, artistic, or reference materials (such as books, manuscripts, recordings, or films) are kept for use but not for sale” — but that definition is so yesterday.

Today’s library is the Library of Things.

Libraries are among the best institutions at adapting to changing needs. They have reinvented themselves to focus on “lending” rather than maintain a narrow focus of what that involves. Libraries went from just having books to adding periodicals. Next came audiobooks (cassettes, then CDs, then streaming), then movies (videos, then DVDs, then BluRay). Now libraries fuel the sharing economy by offering collections of games, puzzles, specialty baking pans, tools and equipment. One library converted its obsolete card catalog into a Seed Library – filling the drawers with envelopes of seeds for customers to take and return when their grown plant creates new ones.

Libraries were among the first to furnish Maker Spaces as a venue to share audiovisual equipment, jewelry-making tools, sewing machines, 3-D printers, cameras, button machines, green screens and pottery wheels. One library near Lake Michigan checks out metal detectors on the beach and others loan clients reading glasses, computers, and Kindles.

The library has become what Starbucks defined as the Third Place – somewhere to meet and gather besides home or work. They provide access to the internet, coffee shops and children’s areas. In Boston, the library revamped its map room into a café with a tea lounge, complete with specialty drinks named after literary greats.

Today’s library embraces the key concept from Built to Last*: preserve the core and stimulate progress. They have remained true to the mission of offering free lending while embracing a modern interpretation of what articles they lend. They are good for the budget, for the environment, for the mind and for community connectedness.

How can you model the flexibility of today’s library and embrace the essence of your mission in a decidedly contemporary way?

*Built to Last by Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras, 2004

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