The digital age is forcing libraries to change. Here’s what that looks like | Washington Post

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You make a beeline from the door to the iPad mini. The touch interface is nice, but you want something a little larger so you move on to the next device. Are you weighing a purchase at an Apple Store? No, you’re trying one of the lineup of devices at the new Digital Commons space at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, D.C.


The similarity to an Apple Store is no accident, according to Nicholas Kerelchuk, the manager of the Digital Commons. But at the Digital Commons you can try out e-book readers from all of the major manufacturers, including Kindles, Nooks, and Windows 8 tablets.


And the e-book readers are just the start. When the Digital Commons opened in July, it featured a 3-D printer with a smart panel design, on-demand book binding machine, 80 desktops (some of them featuring pricey graphic design suites), rows of tables set up for patrons bringing their own devices, a Skype station, and a vast co-working space the library calls the “Dream Lab.” Could this sprawling space be a glimpse into the future of libraries?


Libraries around the country are facing budget cuts as local governments struggle with the aftermath of the recession – and in many cases that means fewer branches or services. But in the recession more people than ever relied on libraries for frugal entertainment options and to search for employment opportunities.


However, at the same time, libraries are facing an identity crisis: As the Internet has become the primary way people gather information, the traditional “building filled with books” model is less relevant to their lives.


As a result, “libraries are really transforming themselves into technology hubs” says Kathryn Zickuhr, a researcher focusing on how Americans use libraries at the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.


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