Introduction

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Seattle Central Library. Courtesy of the Pacific Coast Architecture Database via the University of Washington.

Following from their first one hundred years of service, public libraries today thrive despite funding struggles. Once robust local funding for public libraries has been challenged over the past few decades, particularly in times of recession. Cuts leave institutions struggling to operate without necessary resources despite a consistent climate of public support.

Since their beginnings, public libraries have been at the forefront of adapting to and embracing new technology. The rise of the Internet and the prevalence of computers and mobile devices, however, has changed how libraries connect with their patrons. A crucial part of contemporary library services is access to the Internet, as well as free use of computer equipment. Public libraries also often subscribe to online research databases, which patrons can use. Other services like library websites, remote access catalogs, and ebooks have become central to the community's library experiences. These services are supported by government projects like the Library Services and Technology Act and the Federal Communication Commission's E-rate program as well as philanthropic funding from organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation—a digital-age equivalent to Andrew Carnegie's library grants. The Gates Foundation, through its first project as an organization, granted $50 million a year over twenty years to public libraries to fund Internet access and computer equipment.

Public libraries are also innovating new uses for their physical spaces. Diverging from the silent reading rooms of old, public libraries now include bustling collaborative workstations, maker spaces, cafes, and other places for patrons to gather and interact. Library leaders have transformed the buildings themselves, like Seattle Public Library's Central Library redesign in 2004, to facilitate these new uses.