Libraries have spent years reinventing themselves. Will they have to do it again?

Kai Ryssdal and Alli Fam May 14, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
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Jennifer Pearson, director of the Marshall County Library in Tennessee, with a bag of books for curbside pickup. Courtesy of Jennifer Pearson

Libraries have spent years reinventing themselves. Will they have to do it again?

Kai Ryssdal and Alli Fam May 14, 2020
Jennifer Pearson, director of the Marshall County Library in Tennessee, with a bag of books for curbside pickup. Courtesy of Jennifer Pearson
Share Now on:
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Over the past 15 years, public libraries across the country have been rethinking their role as a public space. They’ve evolved from just a place to check out books into community hubs, and the transformation has come with a lot of new initiatives and programs. The Boston Public Library, for example, has been working on developing more affordable housing to sit atop some of its branches. The Austin Public Library offers citizenship courses for immigrants and hosts naturalization ceremonies. And the Bristol Public Library in Indiana, like many others, allows patrons to check out baking equipment to use at home. 

A lot of these new changes mean that people spend more time in libraries. And that, right now, poses a problem for libraries as they begin to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic. Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal talked with Jennifer Pearson, director of the Marshall County Library in Tennessee and president of the Association for Rural and Small Libraries about how her library, and libraries across the country, are continuing to adapt and serve the needs of their patrons. 

While talking to Pearson, Ryssdal recalled his own reporting during the Great Recession. He would talk to people “who had lost their jobs and really had nowhere to go, and they would go to libraries to use the computers, and the facilities and especially the Wi-Fi.” He asked Pearson if she expected that need to resurface soon. Pearson explained that people are already using the Wi-Fi on library grounds even though the doors remain closed. She said that “the first thing we will open to the public… is some of the public computers” so that patrons can “fill out job applications and send resumes.” She explained that “it’s also tax season” and that a lot of people rely on the library to “fill out their taxes.”

Click the audio player above to hear the interview. 

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