A diversion, if I may. Well, perhaps not a diversion, since this is a post about meaning, and the semantic web is all about that. But I want to step back from technology for a moment to consider the public library. In recent years, I’ve been following public libraries more and more closely as this is where a lot of the innovation in our profession is coming from. They are leading with user-centred design, responding to changing user needs, and capitalising on their location. I had a good conversation recently with some colleagues about the importance of local in the public library, which I was sceptical of at first but having just watched a typical Paxman grilling on Newsnight over the future of public libraries (alas, iPlayer link only available in the UK) I think if we change our notion of what it means to be local, public libraries could have a major role for decades, if not centuries to come.

When I was in library school, local meant that the library provided a local history service. Generally, a stack of books about the surrounding area, and perhaps a few oral histories of notable residents. Not particularly exciting. The DOK in Delft, Netherlands have taken this to the next level by creating amazing interactive applications that tell the history of streets, people and places in Delft (Youtube video) and an entire interactive wall that tells stories about the town. Kathryn Greenhill also has a post and presentation on “getting deeply local at your library“.

Three other local ideas that are not new that could bring value to the library and help it to connect to others:

Tourism information. Many times I have lamented going into public libraries on my travels, wanting to sit and relax for a short while, and never finding a shelf on local information. Street directories are one of the most popular items in libraries (at least, when I worked in an academic library), couldn’t libraries provide local information about the area, things to do, interesting facts, instead of this being left to commercial booksellers and (in larger places) tourist bureaus? Why it probably isn’t being done now: tourists by their definition are not local taxpayers.

Small meeting rooms for freelancers and small business. I really like the Business and IP Centre at the British Library, but it doesn’t really do meeting spaces very well if you don’t have a reader’s card (my BL card is just about to expire…). I frequently have to find meeting spaces in the city during business and after hours, and usually end up at a coffee shop, which is far from ideal – noisy, bad lighting, crowded etc. Not to mention, it’s a commercial space. Wouldn’t it be great if businesses and freelancers could stay local and rent out small meeting places now and then in the library, or even a casual coworking style setup? I’m sure some libraries are already doing this, but where are they? How would I find out when such information is so buried on their website?

Linked data. Collect really local publications, including zines, pamphlets, magazines, anything. Let others know you have it by publishing your collection as linked data. Digitise these materials and put them online for the world to see.

Originally published on the semanticlibrary.net blog