Today’s libraries aren’t just trying to fulfill what a March study by the Pew Charitable Trusts calls the institutions’ “shadow mandate” of bridging the widening gaps in social services that used to be provided by non-profits and public agencies. Libraries are also trying to meet people where they are. The cash-strapped Free Library of Philadelphia, a stalwart system founded in 1891, has set up six “Hot Spots” to expand its reach in underserved areas. It’s much cheaper to open these freestanding mini-libraries, which are equipped with computers, printers, and a reference collection, inside facilities owned by community organizations than it is to open a new branch. In a similar move, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh has opened what it calls a “library without walls” in the Pittsburgh Public Market in an effort to deliver library services on the weekends in a place where a lot of people do their food-shopping. Some libraries are even venturing outdoors. In response to recent branch closures in Detroit, the University of Michigan this spring partnered with students at a local elementary school to set up six outdoor libraries, whose waterproof bookcases, unlike book mobiles, don’t come with expensive gas bills.
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