21st Century Library Paradigm – Even More Evidence

While reviewing IMLS publications, I came across their “For Further Reading” link to a 21st Century Skills reading list that contained this resource, “Libraries: A Vision. The Public Library Service in 2015.” England: Laser Foundation. 2004.


This discussion paper is the outcome of a two-day seminar for librarians held at Bedford in 2004. It was organised by the Laser Foundation (see Appendix). Those who attended were mainly young middle managers (The Futures Group). Each section of this paper was drafted by a different hand, and then edited to achieve some uniformity of style.
It has not been found possible to remove all duplication, nor would all delegates agree with all of the sections. This is, after all, a discussion paper on one of the most contentious, but important social questions of today: the future of our public library service.

Some Conclusions

• There will continue to be a need for a public library service which is “free at the point of delivery”; there will also be a need for premium services (Section 4) which may be home delivery, professional research services, access to the national back catalogue etc, all of which should be on a full cost recovery basis. (Section 14)

• Library services must follow retailing in being “customer-led”. (Section 5)

• The introduction of Radio Frequency Identification systems into libraries can revolutionise allocation of staff time. (Section 6)

• In a world of rapid social and technological change libraries too must learn both to change and to encourage the careers of those who can manage change. (Section 6)

• Library staff may have to adopt a corporate appearance, wearing a uniform, or adhering to a dress code. They must spend more time “on the floor”, and be as well trained as good shop assistants in customer relations. Good staff must be properly paid; less than adequate staff must be helped to leave. (Section 9)

• Management skills are in short supply; library school syllabuses are out of touch with today’s needs. (Section 9)

• The division of responsibility for libraries between national and local government is serving the public badly. A radical change in both governance and method of funding is needed. (Section 10)

• In the future there will be no “one size fits all” library. Each will reflect local needs. Some will share a site with other local services, or with commercial premises; others may be “virtual libraries”. (Section 15)

[Emphasis added.]

When I read this paper, I was concerned that loyal readers might think I stole my ideas from this paper, but I swear I had not read this before now. The similarities are amazing even to me. A group of “young middle managers” got together for a “two-day seminar for librarians” in 2004 and developed this vision of the public library 10 years into their future. I was so blown away by the similarities I had to bold those items that are exactly what I’ve been advocating for many months – AND THEY CREATED THIS VISION SEVEN YEARS AGO!

They envisioned libraries operated using a business model, librarians with business acumen, customer driven services, a responsive organization, updated curriculum in SLIS, and finally my proposed 21st Century Library Paradigm – “In the future there will be no “one size fits all” library. Each will reflect local needs. Some will share a site with other local services, or with commercial premises; others may be “virtual libraries.”

[If I had found this paper sooner, it might have saved me a whole lot of brain cells. :| ]


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3 responses to “21st Century Library Paradigm – Even More Evidence

  1. I agree with the ideas in this post. As a small-town library we have always been patron- (or customer) driven. Also, we incorporate our lending of items throughout all 7 branches in our system. I very much agree that there will always be a need for the free library services. We are also considering a home-delivery system in the future as well as a drive-through pick up system.

  2. Thank you,

    I want to read the entire document sometime soon. Many of the points raised resemble our goals for Otis, and like you I could have saved considerable energy had I know of the document’s existence. I am not enamored of the uniform idea, but remain open to cogent arguments pro and con. (As an aside, thank you for noting our dialogue on the community center model. I will keep you informed of our progress.)

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