Libraries of the future

Will libraries become increasingly virtual and the librarians becoming knowledge navigators?

Will libraries disappear as the world goes Wi-Fi or will Google become the future library?

Will place remain central, as libraries become anchor tenants in co-located in commercial and public transit-orientated developments?

Is social justice what libraries are really about or are they a place for empowering, for creating a better society, finding spaces for young and old, for books and digital media?
A lot of questions to be considered when thinking about the future of the libraries!

It is a fact that the library, even though appear to be stable, it has significantly changed throughout history. It has moved from being elite based, for the few that could read, to a pubic space funded by the public. While the advent of the printing press changed the nature of the library, moving it from the monastery and the painstaking efforts of monk scribes, to the recent digitalization of the world, it is leading to even more dramatic transformations.

The library enters a contested domain in its definition, its bundle of services are up for grabs – who defines it, who pays for it, what are its basic purposes. The onset of edu-tainment and the peer-to-peer knowledge revolution, poses the question whether the libraries can become places not just for receiving knowledge, but for directly creating knowledge.

Other challenging issues for libraries would refer to:

  • Local and state governments dramatically decrease their funds for libraries and other financial models user pays, known as McLibrary.
  • Users changing from the young to the aged OR from the aged to the young.
  • Libraries as examples of “green”, developing cradle to grave green technologies for books and for facilities design.
  • The library as a place for escape from a chaotic world. For example: the Slow Movement: slow time, slow learning or slow everything, as the world quickens and moves to hyper-time and culture, the libraries find niches providing places of quietness and calm.
  • The librarian as digital avatar, interacting with users, learning about their changing needs, and in longer term, organizing our memories.
  • The off-shore Call-Centre library.
  • Death of the book in its traditional sense- continuing emergence of new media formats: e-books and audible books

The impact of these emerging issues point to libraries changing dramatically, particularly in the areas of funding, location, purpose and skill sets for librarians and core activities.

Having mentioned the challenges numerous questions remains to be considered: would libraries be more digital or slow, would they be used more by the young or the aged, in suburbs or co-located in denser cities? Which will be their future?

At this moment there are four plausible futures.

Scenario number 1:

“Lean, Mean, Information Machine.” This future arises from the concern about the costs of buildings, space becoming too valuable and libraries moving down the list of core priorities for funding.

In this future libraries would need to seek funding through philanthropy to supplement government funding, from the user, from the community groups, from Federal and Global grants and from corporate sponsorship. With the expected rise in triple bottom line reporting, it is anticipated that corporate sponsorship may become more attractive, as libraries would be an easy and safe way to show that they were good corporate citizens that are helping both the young and the old.

The role of some librarians would definitely  shift –they will become more entrepreneurial, like a broker of services and entities (community groups, corporations, city, state and federal authorities).

Scenario number 2

It is opposite from the number 1. By civilizing the world, civilizing ourselves is the foundational purpose of the library, therefore no corporation should fund it, as over time, market values would poison human values.

The purpose of the library is to be a community builder, providing ideas to all, including those who can and those who cannot afford education. Books cannot be overlaid with digital sponsorship, the ultimate goal is purity.

The best way to serve as community builders is to go to the community. “Co-location for Community Capacity Building ” is the title of this scenario.

Libraries will move to areas of intersection “of the young and old, the poor and rich,” being and  information savvy and digitally challenged.

Libraries could continue to develop as anchor tenants, co-existing with other government service providers, with coffee shops and commercial tenants. As passengers stepped out of the light city rail carriages, they could enter the library, in front to them through the transparent glass, reach for the lighting -illuminating knowledge.

Libraries will have multiple shifting rooms, focused on the needs of different groups, they could segment, based on citizen travel patterns. Some libraries would be more classical – book focused, others would be edutainment – places for social community groups to meet. Libraries could change during the day – shifting who they were from noon to three pm, and become a completely different place in the evening.

The librarian would need to be multi-tasking with various skills, understanding the diverse needs of different age groups, ethnicities, community groups. Engagement with the community would be primary, as the library in this future would model what it meant to be civilized: deep and diverse democracy!

Scenario number 3:

The library and the librarian become the “Knowledge Navigator”, where the users would see and then create the use of information to create new knowledge, new communities, to learn and to recreate. Libraries would become a hybrid of physical and virtual space with cutting edge technologies, cultural maps of the world, helping the users develop their interests, find connection among each other and find their place in the changing digital world. The library would be “the experience”.

Those new to the digital world and emerging technologies could train themselves, ensuring democratic and enabling access for all. The adept ones, would create games for them in order to be able to learn. Gaming may even become a metaphor for the library. Users would find their knowledge treasures through clues, left by the knowledge navigator or other users engaged in knowledge sharing and production. The division between the fun of electronic gaming and the seriousness of the library would breakdown, as the public space would became an open and porous, local and global public space.

Scenario number 4:

The knowledge navigator does not have any future. Considering the billions of dollars Google and other web engines have given “to play” with, and considering the skill sets of their employees and owners, does anyone really think that libraries can survive?

Being “the dinosaurs of the digital knowledge era”, in the are of  globalization, they may transfer into coffee shop, eats-up-one market. The digital search portals eat up another market, and through continuous dis-aggregation there is very little left.

The future of the library is easy to predict – there will not be any!

Funding will move to other core areas for cities: traffic, water, sewage, global warming, competing for young people in an aging society, post-oil energy problems and many more needs of our age. Libraries will slip down the priority radar, as they will not be seen as a response to these issues.

Many librarians are unable to meet the challenge of the skills shift, as they are unable to be relevant with the new world dis-order. With the library monopoly expiring, other competitors enter the fray and essentially change the nature of the library.

A few will survive, as some still want to see and touch books… in the next decades, these will be extinct species. With the virtual book about to include physical senses, the writing is already on the virtual wall.

Which future to like best?

Will one out of the mentioned four mentioned future emerge triumphant? Will there be a mix and match?

Which ever future results for the librarian, this can be the best of all possible times, when the new futures are emerging, where she and he can weave the strands of alternatives and create a new future for and of libraries.


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