rEIMAGINING OUR LIBRARIES: WHY NOW?
It’s a given that libraries must adapt and stay relevant to all members of our complex society. In the twenty-five years since the Robbins Library doubled in size with the 1992 addition, Arlington’s demographics have changed dramatically–and so have public library services across the country. Since 1992 an entire generation of library users has come of age. Digital natives themselves have children who’ve never known a world without smart phones and tablets. According to the Arlington Master Plan, in the last fifteen years the number of families with children has grown to 48% and the projected school enrollment increases are well-documented. We hear a wide variety of languages spoken in the library–at least 15% of Arlingtonians were born outside of the United States according to 2010 census data. How might wayfinding be improved to better serve those who are brand new to our library or who are just beginning to learn English? Library collections have grown to support non-traditional materials like the Discover It Yourself collection in the Children’s Room and the Library of Things collection for adults. We now offer sewing machines, kitchen gadgets and other tools to support the hobbies and interests of Arlingtonians. The library of 1992 wasn’t designed to accommodate these unique collections, nor was it designed with flexible spaces or bookshelves and furniture that can be easily moved. For many years, the library was a place that catered to individual study. That need is still there, but increasingly, so is the need for spaces where people can work collaboratively. We see people working collaboratively in many areas, but especially in the Teen area which is often over capacity. Our two study rooms at Robbins are in constant use. So are our community rooms, where people gather to explore arts and culture, promote civic engagement, educate and socialize.
We celebrated two milestones in 2017: the Robbins Library turned 125, and the Edith M. Fox Branch Library (originally known as the East Branch of the Robbins Library) had its centennial. The libraries share an incredible history and pride of place in Arlington, within the Minuteman Network and statewide. We rank among the highest in circulation, children’s program attendance, e-content circulation and especially teen print circulation. The question is, how much better could we be for current library users and future generations? Arlington residents expect a high level of service from the Town, from great schools to efficient public works and thoughtful community planning. The libraries are part of the mix that makes Arlington such an attractive place to live and work.