The future of libraries: Talking tech with Seattle City Librarian Marcellus Turner

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Seattle City Librarian Marcellus Turner. (GeekWire Photo / Todd Bishop)

When most people think of their public library, technological innovation isn’t exactly top of mind. 

Seattle’s City Librarian Marcellus Turner is working to change that. Seattle Public Library has an array of tech initiatives underway, including its portable WiFi hotspots and a new website, which is scheduled to launch at the end of the year — one of the insights Turner shares in this conversation.

On this episode of the GeekWire podcast, GeekWire editor Todd Bishop and education technology analyst Frank Catalano sit down with Turner to talk about how new tech initiatives are changing libraries. Turner also gives us tips on using existing technology resources that many citizens don’t know about, including the library’s extensive online databases and journals.

Turner said community input is an important part of how technology is incorporated into the library. He’s hosting a special community conversation event this Saturday, June 3, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. so citizens can give feedback on what they’d like to see more of and help shape the future of the library.

Turner said the event has two goals: “One, hear from our public about what they expect around technology from their local public library, and two, share with them a lot of the things we’re doing with respect to technology, which involves a lot of programming in addition to the offering of actual equipment to use.”

In addition to the hotspots, laptops and iPads that the library offers for checkout, the Seattle Public Library offers programming classes for children and has a lively Twitter account.

“Some of our databases are really popular and I wish people would come in and use those,” he said. “We have a database for just about anything you can think of.”

Turner said access to databases is one thing he wishes more people knew about. That includes access Lynda.com, the LinkedIn subsidiary which offers a wide variety of video tutorials, and Morningstar, the investment research database. Those databases are normally only accessible to paying subscribers, but they’re freely accessible with a library card.

Turner said the Seattle Public Library’s digital and technology initiatives put it on the cutting edge of how libraries are changing to fit in with the digital age.

“I do think we’re one of the leading libraries [in the country],” he said. “We’re leading in digital resources. We’re leading in technology. We’re always a library that’s looked to and consulted for information about what’s happening in the world of libraries.”

He also called out a few big local players as influences that have helped the Seattle libraries get to where they are today, including Microsoft and the University of Washington. “We’re just ideally suited to be on top of what libraries are doing,” he said.

Listen to the podcast above, subscribe on iTunes, or download the MP3 here.

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