What IS the Future of Libraries?


I find myself “filtering” most things in the media using my “librarian” filter, and I just realized why. It helps me make sense of events in the context of something that was always a constant. (Note the past tense.) In other words – determining how the moving train affects the train station.

Understanding where libraries used to fit into society, gives me a concept of what society has been for many centuries. Trying to understand how the external environment is impacting the library of that past image, gives me a means to process the changes. This makes more sense to me than trying to analyze how technology and social change impact me and my life personally.

Why? Because individual lives are too ‘personal’ as opposed to institutional. Personal lives are flux. My life is flux. (I assume your life is flux too.) Where I live, where I work, where I travel, what meal I eat tonight – it’s all flux. Life changes. My life has routinely adapted to external factors that are only partially controllable, in order to make it safe, comfortable, enjoyable, and fulfilling. So, trying to use myself as a fixed object against which to measure technology and social change is like nailing silly putty to the wall – time consuming and unproductive. Institutions are more static.

By comparison, people within institutions (like libraries) have more control over how much those external rear-endings impact their institution, but only in terms of how they adapt. BUT, in order to adapt they have to understand the external factors’ influence, what it means to their future, and how to adapt to the changes.

Just consider some of my Blog Posts over this past year. I think it is safe to say that most have dealt with changes impacting our profession. For example;

21st Century Patrons: Generation Y, the Millennials
Millennial Patrons & Social Networking
The Future of Librarians?
“White Spaces” – Another Game Changer!
Future of the pBook – Conflicting Opinions!
The Ghost of Library Future
21st Century Libraries Include “Gadget” Technology
Mobile Technologies Landscape of the 21st Century Library
21st Century Library Technology & Connectivity
Libraries Reinventing Themselves?
Exponential Mobile Technology Growth – Seriously!
CHANGE IS IMPERATIVE! SERIOUSLY!
A “Perfect Storm” Is Battering Libraries
Change Is Not Coming – IT’S HERE!
Demise of the Local Library? – Probably!
As If Google Wasn’t Making Local Libraries Obsolete Fast Enough…….
Discontinuous Thinking
Reference Librarian vs. Computer!
And The Winner Is…..
Youth and Technology
A Look Into Your Future
Another Look Into Your Future

In fact, I have tried to maintain the thread of changes to the library environment being caused by external factors – technology advances, societal changes, education reform – that are affecting that long-held roll libraries have filled within their community. That roll that is fading away. In some cases where communities have chosen to eliminate their library, it simply disappeared. POOF – GONE

We need to figure out how to retain some relevant roll for community libraries, and figure out what that roll should be.

Maybe it isn’t the same for each community, because the external factors will vary from community to community, but will be very similar in some respects. One recent Comment to the “Community Center” Mindset Post explained how the local library was defining the “community center model” for their library and community – in order to survive and remain relevant. That was their reality solution.

Maybe the roll of libraries is to become a “community center” simply to retain some kind of cultural institution identity, even at the risk of losing their identity as being something more.

Maybe the roll of libraries in the 21st Century is the same everywhere, but the services are significantly different. Customer centered services are inherently defined by the customer, every community is unique, so why should we expect all library services to be the same.

Maybe the 21st Century Library Paradigm Shift is that libraries will be defined by their local community and those librarians running the library more than by the profession, or SLIS, or ALA, or any outside association’s arbitrary standards.

Again, we need to figure out how to retain a relevant roll for community libraries, figure out what that roll should be, and what it means in terms of library services.

5 Comments

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5 responses to “What IS the Future of Libraries?

  1. This is the conundrum we are currently grappling with-the future of libraries- and one of the reasons we chose to embrace the community center role. The less kind would say we arrogated that role, but nature hates a vacuum. Our research also involves a healthy dose of collaboration and identification of opportunities that exist because of circumstances-loss of funding, shifting demographics for example-that prevent other community assets from providing continuing services or operating them on their own. Exemplary of this is a collaboration with one of our elementary schools that lost funding for summer school library hours. We were able to provide alternative library services and that program will expand this year to provide reading materials for summer free lunch sites. I expect that recent funding reductions for the local arts agency will stimulate similar opportunities for collaboration. It should not take these fiscal plights to stimulate cooperation, but we will use them to help define the library’s role as a center of community activity and an active collaborator.

    • Sounds like a plan!
      And, it also sounds like “Maybe the 21st Century Library Paradigm Shift is that libraries will be defined by their local community and those librarians running the library more than by the profession, or SLIS, or ALA, or any outside association’s arbitrary standards.

  2. I give my benison to the statement in italics!

  3. I would be happy to share the results. Our conversations are currently focused on coping with change and transition, although I have shared the exchanges from this site, and expect further deliberations to occur. In another matter of immediate concern, this library and others across Connecticut are facing the possible (de)funding of the inter library loan system, a victim of the governor’s austerity budget. This raises some obvious immediate and long term questions. Among the latter is whether every town can sustain the operation of its own community library, or whether consolidation is the most efficacious policy. So much of a community’s identity is defined by its library -as a center of community activity-that such a loss will be traumatic. It is also a topic no one really wants to raise and discuss. Yet!

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