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New commissioner wants to ‘re-envision what libraries look like’

Brian Bannwas named new Chicago Public Library Commissioner by Mayor Rahm Emanuel Wednesday City Hall. |  Rich Hein~Sun-Times

Brian Bannon was named new Chicago Public Library Commissioner by Mayor Rahm Emanuel Wednesday at City Hall. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: February 27, 2012 9:50AM

Chicago built 59 new libraries during the 22-year reign of former Mayor Richard M. Daley.

The question now is, what to do with those buildings in a 24/7 digital world where, as Mayor Rahm Emanuel put it, “newspapers are on iPhones and Amazon is your neighborhood bookstore.”

“The debate is not just about library hours. … The debate is what will our neighborhood branch libraries be like in this information age. We need to define that next mission, write that next chapter and adapt to the changes,” the mayor said Wednesday.

To “integrate and innovate” libraries in the digital age, the mayor has chosen Brian Bannon, technology guru for the San Francisco public libraries, as its next commissioner.

Bannon acknowledged that Chicago is already leading a nationwide discussion about the future of public libraries with e-books and a host of new media projects.

But he said it’s time to “re-envision what libraries look like, both in the physical space as well as in the digital space.”

Pressed for specifics, Bannon talked about following New York City’s lead and engaging tech-savvy students during the summer months.

“It allows kids to do book reports, video reviews and share this with one another. It’s a much more interactive way for kids to share with other readers what’s important and of value to them,” Bannon said.

“That’s one way that technology can help kids during the summer be better connected to each other.”

He added, “The way that people are consuming information today — there’s a huge opportunity. … Video content, audio content, interactive games for kids. … Libraries have a great opportunity to understand how people are changing the way they learn and incorporate that into the core services we provide in the physical space, as well as online.”

Emanuel noted that the Chicago Sun-Times recently began charging heavy users of its website while other papers “think they should give it away free.”

He added, “Brian will get there, look at what Chicago public libraries are doing and help write a business plan … on how to go forward and use technology so the strategy of our brick and mortar [buildings] are more interactive and more dynamic than where they are today.”

Bannon will be joined by new library board president Linda Johnson Rice, chairman of Johnson Publishing. She replaces longtime president Jayne Carr Thompson, wife of former Gov. James Thompson.

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