Dayton Is Making the Library a Must-Visit Destination
Dayton, Ohio, isn’t the first place that comes to mind when you think of a progressive U.S. city with Danish-inspired civic planning. Yet this post-industrial Midwestern city of 140,000 — the seat of a county that voted definitively for President Trump in the 2016 election — defies expectations. It has a diverse population, farm-to-table bistros, a bike-share program, electrified public transit, an independent theater community, and forward-thinking architecture, design, and cultural institutions.
But the most progressive thing about Dayton — the thing that puts its coastal, blue-state brethren to shame — is its public library system, one of the most dynamic in the country.
In an era of widespread internet access, cheap digital books and federal disinvestment, cities across America are attempting to reinvent their aging library systems. Dayton is at the forefront of this movement. The Dayton Metro Libraryis leading the city’s cultural transformation, putting $1 million dollars into local art, and using the largest bond issue in state history to radically change the form and function of its library spaces. It is customizing branches for the specific communities they serve, implementing new architecture that can adapt to future technologies, and designing programming that integrates the library into the daily routines of city life.
In short, the city is reshaping the place of the public library in society, making an important “third place” where citizens go when not at work or at home. While libraries across the country risk going the way of the card catalogue, Dayton’s is becoming a place for everything from family reunions to wedding receptions; theater to video production; virtual reality to cooking; and of course, reading, writing, and research.