At the weekend I walked through my local almost- deserted shopping centre and I thought that if the impact of coronavirus has taught us anything it’s that most people’s habits, behaviour and confidence can be changed very, very quickly when necessary. It was saddening to me, as a once very happy shopper I wondered if I’d ever really want to shop in that way again.
The pandemic has caused massive disruption and the retail apocalypse has hit every community. The disruption has shown us all just how quickly people have adapted to the disruption and how they have moved quickly and easily to online shopping and almost everything else. People may never return to offices as Zoom has made working remotely easy (for some). Video medical appointments have become a sensible way to see the doc. It has taught us how newspaper readers moved to online print, how many paper book readers moved to ebooks and audiobooks. It’s seen a necessary shift to online learning for schools, colleges and universities. It’s also meant that these new habits are likely to become “The New Normal” for many of us.
Very few industries and walks of life will ever be the same again and there is a real need to rethink everything we do and reskilling, learning and relearning will become more important than ever.
In a former shopping mall, Austin Community College is showing a new way to learn. This example in the article below struck me! Austin CC is experimenting with a new kind of learning space it hopes will help learners engage and find support services. Before the college bought the property, the mall “was disappearing” and plagued by vandalism, ACC’s Guillermo Martinez said. Now, there’s a multiyear plan to bring new people through its doors. “Once it’s all said and done,” he said, “we’ll probably serve about 15,000 students.”
The college has transformed 32,000 square feet of the mall, once a J.C. Penney store, into a sleek, open-plan learning lab, with wood accents and an exposed ceiling to round out the contemporary vibe. The rest of the mall and the surrounding area, which the college also owns, has or will soon be redeveloped into academic incubators, office space, apartments and retail shops.
The future of retail is likely to be much more about communities and relearning. It is likely to be about creating new user experiences, makerspaces, creative library hubs and making these spaces so, so locally relevant in their communities. Why shouldn’t shopping centres have places designed for people to interact and share beyond just restaurants?
What about the impact libraries, museums, historical societies can have to revitalise these spaces? What about meeting halls for community groups? What about exactly these sort of education centres where community colleges and vocational groups can train the next generation of workers for the new jobs they will need to find in the community? What about offices for government agencies and elected officials where community members can come and be heard?
Public libraries have reinvented themselves multiple times not only over the last decade, but for centuries. reviving their role as beacons for civic pride, social and economic regeneration. The “Streetcorner University” aka the public library is well placed to help inspire and create a vibrant, open and inclusive economy that works for everyone. Let’s be bold and seize the chance to reshape the future of our communities, libraries and the part the can play in future democracy, economy, learning, literacy and community.
Innovation is in the DNA of the public library has contributed hugely to the literacy and skills of Joe Public, to the first industrial economy and the world’s innovation powerhouse. Now in this next world of technology, digital transformation and change and as we enter the 4th Industrial Revolution, our libraries will help and reinvigorate a 21st century creative learning, caring, kind democracy. We can do this by supporting, protecting and empowering people in a digital age, by enabling the learning required to create new jobs and a new skilled, adaptable workforce and by metamorphosis into the spaces people want and need.
Rethinking like Austin CC could knit shopping centres into the community in a way that would help people and ultimately help its retail tenants.
Extraordinary spaces make extraordinary people!