Do I wanna see a Google ad? Not really. But do I want to discover what public libraries can do for their communities besides lending books? Yes, please.

Google Stories recently featured the Saint Paul Public Library in Minnesota and its Mobile WORKplace program which provides training and assistance in computers and job search for the people in Saint Paul. It neatly highlights the wonderful ideas behind the program.

For me, the immediate takeaway is this: in a world where people are increasingly dependent on the internet not just for entertainment or news but essential information skills that impact their livelihood – jobs, training, education – public libraries have a central role to play. And that role does not necessarily include books or programs and activities at the library.

To remain relevant in the age of Google, Wikipedia, social media, and massive open online courses (MOOCs), where knowledge and information are freely available online, public libraries – and librarians – need to be at the forefront, guiding and equipping their communities with the necessary skills to survive and thrive in the internet age. They also need to bring up the rear, identifying groups of people in the community that are in danger of being left behind. In short, instead of worrying about their place in a future where people may read less (physical) books and (physically) visit libraries less often, public libraries and librarians need to be all over this and make themselves useful

I’m especially gratified to hear Rebecca Ryan, Saint Paul Public Library’s manager, echo some of what I recently said to my colleagues about the role of public libraries here in Singapore: “We are not in the book business, we’re in the Saint Paul business.” It may sound a little lofty, but it’s a good place to start.