Checking out the Library of Things

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Sean Stoker | Opinions Editor | @theroyalthey

For thousands of years, libraries have purely been home to written materials and the bookworms who love them. However, as technology continues to make the written word and other media more accessible to a greater number of people, public libraries are rethinking their strategy when it comes providing free learning experiences to the public. A growing trend in libraries across the world is to expand their inventory into non-media items.

For instance, the Sacramento Public Library now offers things like sewing machines and musical instruments. One library in Biddeford, Maine allows patrons to borrow snowshoes, and the Ann Arbor Downtown Library in Michigan even lends out microscopes and telescopes.

It’s a trend that has even reached our own campus library, which allows students to check out, amongst other things, a variety of audiovisual equipment: things such as professional video cameras, GoPros, keyboards, SD cards and more. Depending on your interests, you could also check out a life-size model of the human skeleton, telescopes and other curiosities from the UVU library.

“It’s about breaking down cost barriers,” said Dustin Fife, UVU’s Outreach Librarian. “[With the equipment we offer] you and your friends could film, edit and score an entire movie without buying anything.”

The movement is aimed at promoting lifelong learning, providing an open forum for the public to hone skills, share ideas and create without the significant financial investment that would normally accompany such ventures.

Mary Naylor, UVU’s Reference and Instruction librarian said that the library’s supplies are often useful in unexpected ways. “We’ll often buy something for a particular type of student,” said Naylor, referencing how the skeleton was intended as an aid to biology and anatomy students, “but we’ll then find it’s also useful to other majors as well.” Many dance classes borrow the skeleton to explore range of motion of the human body.

The “library of things” movement is sadly absent from our local public libraries. Though the Provo Library does allow patrons to borrow Chromebooks for up to a week at a time, there are surprisingly few non-media items to check out at either the Provo or Orem Library, which is a shame for nonstudents who want to learn.

With the boom of communication technologies we’ve had in the past few decades, more and more people have not only the access to consume media but to independently produce it. Communication and education are essential to a democratic society, so we should be doing everything we can to increase not only the volume but also the value of our communication, and a library of things makes for a great laboratory for honing expressive and communication skills. The biggest value of a library lies not just in the fact that we have access to information, but access to tools and people with expertise in finding and utilizing that information. And those tools and expertise are exactly what a library of things offers.

As Fife said, “A room full of books without a librarian is not a library. But an empty room with a librarian is a library.”