The library users of the future have their eyes on a place to play as well as work. The message is clear from the 6,000 four to 15-year-olds who entered the Library Association's Big Idea competition: they see the full potential of their local library and are comfortable with the multimedia resources to be found there.
The competition was set up to devise advertising campaigns to promote libraries to other children, but it seems that it is adults who need convincing.
Anne Louise McGough, an Edinburgh community librarian who helped to compile the shortlist for the print, radio and Web site categories (Blue Peter ran a separate competition for a TV ad, which attracted nearly 10,000 entries), was impressed with the raw energy of the submissions. "There is a very positive attitude towards libraries coming from young people, but we think some parents and teachers still see them as places where you have to be quiet," she says. In fact, the riotous raps and sound effects in the entries for the radio category suggest that nobody is saying "Ssshhh" these days.
"The view that we are seeing in the ads," says Ms McGough, "is of somewhere where children expect to meet their friends and relax. They know what we have to offer, and feel comfortable using new technology."
Andrew Walker, head of interactive media development at On-Line Publishing, which designs Web sites, was a member of the judging panel. He says entries for the Big Idea Internet category "showed a maturity in the design that we would be happy to turn out ourselves; some entrants had more intuition about how a design would work on the Web than a lot of our clients".
He was pleased that teams of teenage girls were responsible for all the best shortlisted efforts. "This breaks down the perceived barrier between girls and technology and contradicts the nerdy ethos attached to the Web - which actually bothers older people much more than younger ones."
The content of the Internet entries suggests that young library users turn to information technology to extend their reading rather than as a substitute for it. Many site designs included interactive pages linking to author interviews, book reviews and lists of related topics.
Early results of the Millennium Quiz completed by all the Big Idea entrants confirm that, in the libraries of the future, the book as we know it will be backed up by new technology and is in no danger of disappearing.
The Big Idea print, TV, radio and Internet winners will be announced today (October 31). The winning Web site can be accessed on http:www.big-idea. org. National Libraries Week runs until November 7 * see multimediait, page 20