What Will Libraries of the Future Be Like?

I set my mind to answer this question at the beginning of the Covid-19 shelter-in-place orders. Here’s what came to me recently about how libraries might evolve through the pandemic.

Four Categories of Libraries

There are many kinds of libraries. However, librarians in the U.S. tend to categorize four major types of libraries:

1. academic libraries —these started in the 16th century with a few hundred books sent from abroad that were housed in a Harvard University building where the most important books were chained to stands. That was a practice,  that 19th century author, Henry David Thoreau complained about not being able to get a card to check books out of the library.

2. special libraries—these private libraries were founded by gentlemen with means – their private collections are now called special libraries. Today there are tens of thousands thousands of special libraries in the U.S. Many of them are attached to large organizations. There are also special collections inside of large public and academic libraries.

3. public libraries—these libraries rose in the U.S. right along with the Industrial Revolution. The town of Lowell, Massachusetts was a place where girls no longer needed on farms moved to the city to work in the textile mills. These girls made use of their library, using it to start a one of the early women’s magazine. Many other cities followed their example.

4. school libraries—with the rise of democracy In America it was clear the country needed public schooling to create an educated populace voters. The American Library Association puts public school libraries as beginning in the mid-1700s when Benjamin Franklin recommended their use.

I have worked as a librarian for twenty years  in the first three types of these libraries in both the Southern and the Western U.S.

How These Libraries Will Change

Many larger college and academic libraries have already automated processing of books for circulation. See my blog post, Largest Libraries of the  Future  about this trend. To face the future, the U.S. will need to fund school libraries and college libraries alike to use robotic processing and checking-out of books to patrons.

Today, libraries are starting to open using curbside pick-ups by their patrons. This practice may evolve.

Technology has already changed libraries significantly over the last century. It will be increasingly incorporated by librarians in their libraries.

Recently a young girl achieved a dream of mine as a girl: she created a machine that turned pages on a print book for the reader of  book. Print -and braille- book sanitation will need to be explored. Digital book collections will no doubt expand. These include audiobooks as well as e-books and PDF books.

That might well be a way print books are read without handling them.

The use of apps like Zoom will make it possible for librarians at all levels to interact with patron over the Internet. It will be vital for reference book librarians to create new modes of communication with patrons.

Every state has a state library system in the U.S. Those librarians traditionally have met together at least yearly to coordinate their services. There are also consortiums of regional libraries that lend books to each other.

Give the situation that is occurring today, a significant challenge will be to equalize the status of ethnic-, racial-, differently-gendered, differently abled-persons and children so that all library collections and reference services in this country are no longer discriminatory toward any of these groups. I expect this will happen over this century and beyond.

A different socio-economic issue will be the effort to counter the negative impact that income inequality affects all four kinds of libraries in the U.S.  Librarians champion equal access to their information by all patrons. I see a possibility of government secrecy being a difficult issue for future librarians to tackle, but tackle it they must.

Given the impact of social media today, I expect that computers will play a large part in aiding librarians, and that there will be a lot more emphasis on library collections of images, with things like memes and tweets, perhaps being gathered by librarians using algorithms.

It would be nice too f there would eventually be deals made by librarians with companies like DirectTV, Comcast, Amazon, YouTube, Apple TV, Hulu, Netflix , etc. to provide music and films to patrons via the Web.

Right now all these companies serve a hodge-podge of offerings, and all have with clumsy, tedious interfaces to help people find what they seek on those sites.

The biggest media corporations may well want to make deals with librarians through the larger corporations, such as Ebsco, Baker & Taylor, Ingram, etc. or even buy out those traditional library services companies that currently help librarians select and buy books, magazines, audio- and video – materials for libraries.

Lastly, I’m afraid that masks and social distance spacing may cause a need for libraries to need to review the interior designs of their buildings.

Or perhaps someone will invent a way for humans to be present and mingle safely for hologram events held inside of libraries, concert halls, coliseums, and other public buildings!


Comments are closed.

Powered by WordPress | Designed by Elegant Themes