The Public Library of 2020


According to Pew Research Center’s “Pew Internet & American Life Project” they think they know what public libraries will be by the year 2020. I wouldn’t question their research, but I’m skeptical about some of their conclusions. See what you think.

“On Thursday June 7th, Kristen Purcell will deliver the keynote address for the 2012 State University of New York Librarians Association Annual Conference in New York City” Libraries 2020: Imagining the library of the (not too distant) future.

There are 59 slides in the presentation, and only the last nine present Pew’s “Imagining” of the public library of 2020. I selected six of the last slides that have relevant information for 21st Century librarians.

Pew believes: These information conclusions relevant to libraries.

I believe: The nature of the library customer is changing and will continue to change toward technology being an integral part of their life. I believe that is a fact.

Pew believes: The library in 2020 will help “information consumers” with three basic functions.

I believe: These three factors will continue to be a constant. However, in another 8 years there will be more customers who do not need librarians to filter their information, nor manage their information stream.

Pew believes: The library of 2020 will be faced with this environment.

I believe: This is a fact of life that will never go away. Librarians need to understand that and begin to work within it.

Pew believes: These are Roles of 2020 Librarians.

I believe: Pew was trying to appease the “old guard library establishment”, because none of their reported facts unquestionably leads to these roles. I don’t know from where they drew these roles, but they got this wrong. Customers in 2020 will not need any of these roles from librarians. They will fill these roles for themselves.

Pew believes: These additional Roles of 2020 Librarians.

I believe: They got these roles correct. These will be the roles of the 21st Century librarian, and library.

Pew believes: This slide from ALA Office of Information Technology Policy as the last slide.

I believe: ALA Finally Catches Up? The information in the slide comes from the Office of Information Technology Policy, Brief No. 4, June 2011, by Dr. Roger Levien. You can read my review at the link above, in which I summarize the publication by writing:

While there is virtually nothing new or profound in Levien’s paper, it is important that ALA has adopted his “Policy Brief” because it FINALLY establishes in ALA Policy what so many have been saying and writing for so long – change is here, the future of the public library is far from certain, and the changes in technology, competition and society will have profound affects on what that future will be.

And, my final comment was, which I think is even more valid today, “Of particular value in this publication is the reiteration of what so many have written – the future of the library will be determined locally – not nationally! Better late than never!”

2 Comments

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2 responses to “The Public Library of 2020

  1. Thank you Steve. As a firm believer in the gospel of “local libraries addressing local conditions” I hope that when assessing these generalizations librarians will remember that there is a local context for each conclusion requiring action based on quantifiable data drawn from local examinations. It also seems to validate another plain truth: the new status quo is there is no status quo. A library that is not engaged in analyzing what they do, measuring its effectiveness and looking for new opportunities is in danger of becoming vestigial.

  2. Jeannine

    I think it does depend on the library. For example, a public library in an urban area will have to do things that are different from a public library in a small town because the needs and the size of the community are different. While I do think everyone wants access to information technology, it’s still to varying degrees because it depends on the community. For example, the Main Library in the urban area from where I come, naturally, has a computer lab that’s much larger than the one at the public library in the small town where I currently reside (even though both places have a college nearby). I tend to take these surveys with a grain of salt since it really still depends on the community and the size of the library’s budget.

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