The Future of Libraries

What does the future hold for libraries? believes it will be one without books.  The article primarily focuses on public libraries and the young hip library-chic librarians embracing technology.  (By the way I hate how CNN has sort of split librarians into the young hip techie librarians vs. the old out of style bookish librarians.  It irks me.  Tech savvy has nothing to do with being young, old, hip, boring, chic, or dowdy.  Both types of librarians have tech savvy and non-tech.)

The article, “Welcome to the Library. Say goodbye to the books.” on (posted by Cynthia on Medlib-l) is about one prep school’s idea of the future library.  The school eliminated the 20,000 volume collection and will be spending $500,000 for a “learning center.”  Laptop friendly study carrels ($20,000) and three large flat screen TVs ($43,000) projecting data from the Internet will occupy the space where the book stacks once stood.  So what will students read?  Where are the English lit. books that they might read for class?  Ah so glad you asked.  The school bought 18 electronic readers ($10,000) which will be loaded with these tomes.  My first thought, only 18 readers for a whole school to loan out?  My second thought, what a licensing nightmare.  Maybe I am overly sensitive to that because science and technology materials tend to have more licensing hoops to jump through than high school resources. 

Just take a look at our medical libraries today.  There a lot more library re-design projects happening to make room for group study rooms, conference areas, digital resources like smart boards, TVs, etc.  Librarians are dumping the print journal subscriptions in lieu of online access.  And the area of online textbooks has begun to expand and offer different opportunities for librarians and patrons. 

It would be silly to say we aren’t getting more wired and digital, because people are finding information more online these days.  But I think it is slightly premature to do what Cushing Academy has done and eliminate all of the books from the library.  People (especially students) use what is convenient and frankly right now it isn’t always convenient to get and use everything online.  If it were then why are we still printing out the PDFs of the online journal article?  You can still read a book if you drop it or fail to charge it, the same can’t be said of an e-reader.  However that isn’t an excuse to hide your head in the sand and ignore online access and technology.  If your library doesn’t have any online journals, books, or an online catalog, you are no better than those who have abandoned all printed material.  Both types of libraries are extremes and living on the extreme you will find your information access limited. 

While I am tech minded person and I am the first to start a weeding party in the stacks, I am not ready to say that libraries will be void of all books.  There will be less books of course, and online access makes it easier for more people to use the material, I just don’t think the death of the paper printed book is here. Yet.

4 thoughts on “The Future of Libraries”

  1. This is very thoughtful and I agree completely that libraries should work to find the proper balance between new technologies and traditional formats. There is a definite need to have both, and a need to still have libraries. I attended a lecture at which the head of a library said that, because of everything going online, in ten years there wouldn’t be a need for libraries anymore. He made that prediction twelve years ago.

  2. I agree with you. I am a librarian at a public library, in Children’s Services. We have been hearing for years that we needed to be more like a bookstore, move over for digital only service and to ignore our training and get ready to be classified as obsolete.

    We find that we are more in demand, need more services and because of our training realize we just evolve to fit the needs of the communities we serve. Yes blogs, wikis, Twitter and the like are all in use amongst our patrons. What a lot of people don’t realize that with each new device or application comes the demand for print materials to explain the device or application.

    I will acknowledge that our print budgets have completely flipped in the past couple of years. In the past we spent 70% on nonfiction with a heavy leaning toward school reference and 30% on fiction. With the availability of online resources for school work we find the demand for books the same but now we at 70% fiction and leisure nonfiction and 30% for educational reference. We have found that even though we employ Overdrive through our website for downloadable books, music and movies, it has not been very successful. People who read like the physical book. The cover, the pages, to see when to place a hold for a new book by seeing where the bookmark is…………..

    I also agree with you on the licensing nightmare. We don’t offer Kindle for we legally can’t.

  3. My own local public library is getting scary, I’ve built up my personal library as a result. I cannot really see ditching the books as “progress”. What we have are row upon row of people who show up for the free internet and spend their time on their favorite political cause. This has led to a bit of a breakdown of public discourse as people tend to be much less reasonable when making their various and diverse points online as opposed to in person.

    Certainly I can see a wired solution with respect to tech, things change so rapidly that by the time you get something printed it is already well on it’s way to being out of date. But the knowledge base acquired over millennia should stay in book form and should be available.

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