As chief of Chicago’s 80-branch library system since 2012, Brian Bannon is updating the very concept of the library for the 21st century. His pioneering initiatives include portable Wi-Fi hot spots, robotics, and tablet computers that put tech in the hands of families that couldn’t otherwise afford access. His team is also testing a neighborhood-driven continuing-education model that couples online courses with in-person “learning circles” that meet at local branches.
Bannon's team is also building interactive early-childhood centers designed through partnerships and advisors at the MIT Media Lab, the Lego Foundation, and the Erikson Institute and funded partly by a $2.5 million grant from Exelon, as well as preprofessional training for youth that taps mentors in fashion, music, and the digital arts. Under Bannon’s leadership, Chicago Public Library has become the nation’s leading laboratory for the library sciences, shifting the focus from objects—that is, books—to ideas. He was previously the San Francisco Public Library system’s chief information officer and also worked on expanding the library network there as well as in Seattle. An adviser to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Bannon believes that it’s vital to reimagine the library as a place for experimentation and to democratize learning and technology. His goal: to transform the learning tools available to library users of all ages, from little children to senior citizens.