The Chicago Public Library is becoming less the hushed repository of static media and more like a coworking space for customers under commissioner Brian Bannon, who took the helm in March 2012 amid layoffs and budget cuts. Since then, he has installed popular office-productivity software for patron computers and expanded computer training classes, and he’s working on a three-year workforce-readiness plan.
“I’m dubbed ‘the technology guy,’” Bannon told the Chicago Tribune, “but I’m really ‘the librarian guy.’” Technology is the means to an end, he believes — not an end in itself. “We can leverage technology to create a great experience for readers. We as a field are not embracing that responsibility.”
When he opened the Maker Lab as an experiment in the Harold Washington Library Center with equipment such as 3D printers, laser and vinyl cutters and a milling machine, the lab earned a Chicago Innovation Award for social innovation.
In January, Bannon spoke to Blue Sky about Internet To Go, a Knight Foundation News Challenge-funded program that will lend WiFi hotspots to anyone with a library card, an important step especially for low-income neighborhoods.
“[People] need to do homework, to do applications for jobs, apply for benefits … but many people don’t have access,” he said.
Previously, Bannon held positions as chief information officer and chief of branches at the San Francisco Public Library. He also worked for the Seattle Public Library and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He is a board member and trustee for the Drew Independent High School.
Bannon graduated from Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash., with a major in psychology and gay and lesbian studies. He holds a master’s in library and information science from the University of Washington.