This week my four-month old daughter reached out and touched my iPad mini’s screen. The app responded and her eyes, filled with the glow of the screen, suddenly widened. It got me thinking - and excited - about the opportunities she’ll have to learn.
Later that same day, I watched a video on the New York Times that thoroughly gutted me.
The video tells the story of a Kentucky teacher named Jeffrey Wright. He is everything we want from our teachers: funny, engaging, passionate, and connecting with students on a very personal level. Many of Wright’s students are disillusioned kids from deeply troubled homes. They are the types of kids who walk on a fine line between success and failure.
A few minutes into the video, we learn the source of Wright’s drive. Wright’s young son lives with a disorder called Joubert syndrome, which severely limits the boy’s mobility, muscle control, and physical development. After putting everything he has into his students, Wright comes home and does it all over again for his son.
I took two things from watching this. First, while I hope I could have the courage and perseverance Jeffrey Wright displays every day, I’m lucky my daughter is so healthy. Second, when it comes to education, it takes more than app. The best Objective-C or HTML5 cannot replace an inspirational mentor.
This is why we need to reimagine the library.
Too many of our schools don’t have a Jeffrey Wright. Too many of our children won’t have access to an iPad in the home. The kids who most need both are likely to have neither. It will take time to figure out our schools and scale, but the library is an opportunity now.
My vision for tomorrow’s library is a beautiful building made from great materials, filled with free tablets connected to super-fast Internet. While its floor plan commits far less square footage to books, it does contain the very best books in human history; curated, inspiring artifacts that one can touch and feel. The library of the future has conference rooms, flat screens, and open spaces for young entrepreneurs and startups. It is a lively, fluid place where people learn and share ideas. Large floor to ceiling windows bring in natural light and welcome the city in. Its walls feature posters of great thinkers and their biographies, from Descartes and Plato, to Henry Ford and Steve Jobs.
We create a space that surrounds kids who need chances with adults who take them. We give kids access to great content and support them with great mentors. We show them what success looks like and, in doing so, raise the expectations of their own lives.
I believe beautiful structures can inspire people. It’s time to hack the library.