Amst Internet Cafe — Image via Liz McGettigan

The Future of Libraries in a Post Covid World

Thoughts from Gene Tan Part 2

Jane Cowell
4 min readAug 30, 2021


IFLA Public Library and the Literacy and Reading Sections came together for an inspiring mid-term webinar program Reflecting Back and Thinking Forward. The program looked at how public libraries worldwide responded to COVID and how the lessons learnt will impact the future. Click on the links if you are interested in viewing the recordings from the program.

Mr Gene Tan, Assistant Chief Executive, National Library Board of Singapore. was one of our inspiring panelists and shared with me his full presentation to share with you. He challenged us to acknowledge the sections of the community that still find it hard to come to our libraries and consider how we can meet their needs. This is the second Blog post further exploring his innovative ideas and presentation points. You can read the first one here.

Gene was talking to a central tenet of mine — we have to build new pathways to the library for those who would benefit from our services and for whom the library is inaccessible for many reasons. The library must move outside its four walls and go to those communities in many different ways.

Karalee Library Pod Ipswich City Libraries

Nodes to Hubs — build more entry points to the library: Outreach hubs are essential to reach those in our community who do not use the library but would benefit greatly from our services. These entry nodes need to be both physical and digital. Many libraries are exploring physical nodes that lead community members to the wider library network but I particularly liked Gene’s emphasis on digital nodes that lead back to the library.

Design elements could include:

  • pop up libraries at spaces where people gather,
  • curated digital shelves on other websites that lead to the library
  • art installations and experimental exhibitions / demonstrations that link to the library, and
  • DIY services, such as Click and Collect, expanding out of the physical library building.

These nodes can also be developed in partnership with other Centres, strengthening the Library network of supporters and encouraging new audiences. Youth Centres, Supermarkets, Train stations are all sites being explored by Libraries across the world to reach out to new audiences and to make the connection to the library space, and, to library content, easier.

Below are some of the different design elements highlighted by Gene for pop up libraries. Considerations should also be given for a pop up of our digital library — how do we display a curated wallpaper of our digital content and encourage interaction with our community digitally as well as with our physical spaces and content? Gene challenged us to find partners, to find solutions and to reach out beyond our library walls.

The design elements for our DIY services are through physical, lockable machines. New Library Apps are also allowing us to design Click and Collect services without the machine, relying on our members to bring their smart phone to use to check out their items.

Gene also took the idea of Library Nodes to mean our digital social media spaces, inviting in notable community members to take over our displays, or curating a ‘Spotify” Playlist of reads from our collections. Imagine having a well-known author as your reading butler for the week. Imagine having your social media taken over by a high school Year 10 class for a few hours. This would link to new networks and show the library is accessible in all aspects of our services.

Partnerships are key to ensure our Nodes are amplified. For Gene, this means partnering with an influential group from the target audience to amplify the Nodes through their digital networks.

The Library Nodes can also ensure that we are reaching the under served in our communities. The social elements of the Nodes can also bring the community together. Design them with socialisation in mind and pop-ups can be used to connect with events that are happening in the community — again connecting new audiences and under served audiences to the library easily. Reconnecting people to each other has never been more important than after a pandemic has kept us all isolated and apart so these social elements are essential in all our planning for Library Nodes.

Has this sparked your interest? You can watch more from Gene when he appeared at the Public Libraries 2030 presentation on Expanding the notion of what the public library can be — a marketplace of ideas — the social network of Public Good.



Jane Cowell

Librarian, interested in libraries, digital disruption, startups, Australian politics