The Chattanooga Public Library is "a breath away" from having the fastest Internet of any library in the United States. But the institution's leaders are asking the same question posed by the nationally recognized Gig Tank competition headquartered here.
Nate Hill, who started his new job on July 2 as the library's first assistant director of technology and digital initiatives, will now be another mind added to list of several others working every day to figure that out.
The scope of Hill's new responsibilities range from "boring library stuff" like cleaning up a dated catalog system to starting a public technology incubator in the library's downtown branch. He will also be tasked with redesigning the system's entire website to make it a more user-friendly dashboard where, eventually, librarians and the public can create blogs and other content.
The tech incubator will be housed on the unused fourth floor downtown and, once plugged into the city's gig, will focus on giving residents and library patrons access to all of that speed.
The goal is to help the community create and share their own content, like apps, music, videos and games.
"This is another highway for content. What can we deliver on that highway, and how can we get the community engaged to help us figure that out? That will be big on Nate's agenda," Executive Director Corinne Hill said.
Hill said her staff will spend some time determining the scope of equipment needs for the incubator and then identifying partners and funding sources to get it up and running.
Nate said he sees a lot of potential for libraries right now at the intersection of the production of content and the consumption of knowledge.
"To me, the big, exciting possibility for public libraries in the future is that we have always been institutions about consumption of knowledge. We're in this place where The Public Library can really service the creative side of the community in a totally different way than we've ever been able to before," he said.
Exactly what that means will be examined this summer, according to Corinne, who said she and Nate will spend a good deal of time looking into what other 21st-century libraries are doing regionally, nationally and internationally.
Nate points to examples found on the Library Lab's website for what could be possible in Chattanooga, including open space modular facilities to accommodate audio and video production, large format printing, book binding and a system to loan out gear like cameras and other digital tools.
Corinne said that with Nate's arrival and the development of a new strategic plan this fall, the library is ready to reboot and become a place that people come to be able to get a broader range of things accomplished beyond checking out books.
"Of course, I want people to come for books and to be able to download books from their home. But I want people to come and create things, collaborate and make things. I want this to be the most natural place that you would go to get stuff done in your life," she said.
Nate not only brings next-generation thinking to his post but has also hands-on experience developing apps, websites and other user interfaces.
He is the Library Journal's 2012 recipient of their Mover and Shaker Award. In his previous job as the Web librarian at the San Jose Public Library, he developed an award-winning mobile application called Scan Jose that featured the library's local historical materials. He is also involved with the Digital Public Library of America, a new organization formed in 2010 that is comprised of representatives from foundations, research institutions, cultural organizations, the government and libraries to discuss best approaches to building a national digital library. The DPLA recently joined President Barack Obama's US Ignite initiative, a program that Chattanooga is also a participant in.