This article on the project in the Calgary Herald is interesting in its subtly critical tone that all this money is being spent and the facility won't even contain that many books. But I think the article misses the point on the changing nature of a facility like a public library, of which this project is a great example. Libraries are one of the few types of public infrastructure that are overtly providing multi-use public space. It goes without say that with the evolution of data and media to communicate information that there would be less of a focus on hard copy books. Public libraries are spaces that people can use to read, research, interact, learn, work, engage in community activities AND get books. Such spaces are few and far between, and one has only to visit the nearest (typically full) Starbucks to see the value of common spaces to work, read or whatever. But of course a Starbucks isn't a public space at all, and one feels obliged to order a $4 latte to do work there, and needs ones own laptop too.
People have a basic desire to be around other people, even when they are not socially interacting. This is why for all the purported benefits of telecommuting most people prefer to be in an office with co-workers. Public libraries, as with university libraries, provide work spaces. Well-designed ones can even be inspirational. The importance of such spaces as the economy moves towards more contract and consulting type work (up to 50% of jobs in the GTA according to this report) is underestimated. It is one more example of how re-imagining the role of public infrastructure could be transformative economically (more spaces for the self-employed) and socially (opportunities to build social/community relationships). Congratulation to Calgary on this exciting project!