15 Predictions for the Library of Tomorrow

Posted September 2, 2009

Technology has certainly changed the library of today with electronic books, online services, and social media connecting the library with the community in ways that far surpass the library of yesterday marked by its quiet book stacks and reading rooms. But what will become of the library of tomorrow? Only time will tell for sure, but trends indicate such shifts as more aggressive marketing, personalization of the library experience, and libraries’ approach to the needs of their users. Read on to discover 15 possibilities for the library of tomorrow.

  1. Focus on local issues and politics. Libraries were originally created as a place for people to learn about their government. The libraries of the future may have a chance to recapture their original intent. By serving as a spot for government meetings and offering free access for anyone to digital media, the library can once again become a place where citizens can learn about the issues at hand and speak face-to-face with those in leadership roles.
  2. Get into the marketing business. Many library users, even students and professors at university libraries, don’t know about the many services and databases available to them–or even how to use these opportunities. The libraries of the future may need to start implementing marketing strategies to pull users into the library to learn about the resources available to them. Meredith Farkas, a distance learning librarian who often writes about technology and libraries, says that libraries may need to engage in viral marketing practices to ensure the word gets out about library resources.
  3. Personalization. Libraries of the future may become more personalized for the patrons. Reading lists and recommendations based on patrons’ past usage, similar to Amazon.com, may be a possibility as will online book clubs. Personalized communications for events and notices that pertain to that specific user are also likely to become a normal part of the library as are the ability for patrons to add their own comments and ratings to books, music, movies, and more.
  4. Video web conferencing with users. Libraries of the not-so-distant future may be equipped with video web cameras that can facilitate communication with users. By using video conferencing, librarians can speak more directly and efficiently with users who are not on site rather than relying on IM or email.
  5. Librarian image shift. Librarians have always been purveyors of information, but were also often viewed as custodians of the printed material in the library. Now that technology has brought a huge amount of information available to people, the perception of the librarian may shift away from that of a book caretaker to one that more clearly stresses the role of information specialist. As technology brings increasingly more resources, having a specialist who can guide the user to the information they need efficiently will become even more valuable.
  6. Sustainable libraries. Not only may new building sites be built with sustainable design in mind, but truly sustainable libraries may also choose socially responsible vendors and publishers, use operational strategies that are environmentally-friendly, and consider their ecological footprint when dealing with waste and energy consumption.
  7. Moving out of the building and into the community. Many future libraries may find themselves in unique spaces such as student unions and recreation centers since the resources such as databases and access to technology are becoming so portable. Bringing the library to the users is much easier when you don’t have to transport all the physical books that once made up the heart of the library.
  8. Virtual libraries. Libraries may exist in virtual worlds such as Second Life, providing interactive, informative library visits for users who never have to leave their home. Patrons in these types of libraries could ask questions, listen to podcasts, and explore famous places like the Sistine Chapel or the Globe Theater.
  9. Fewer books. With the digital movement preserving books electronically and services that can analyze the need for a particular book in any given library, the number of printed books may go down in future libraries. The remaining books will be the ones used by patrons and will free up space for other services such as community events or technology equipment.
  10. Online branches. Libraries may start to reach out to small communities not already serviced by a library by offering virtual branches. These online libraries may provide 24/7 services including access to online texts, online conferencing with librarians, special online collections, and virtual rooms such as medical libraries and art galleries.
  11. Workspaces for professionals. Many libraries already offer places for people to study and work, but libraries of the future may become centers for telecommuting workers. As telecommuting rises, people find themselves being more isolated, wanting a change from their home office, or needing a place to meet with clients. Libraries may offer both individual workspaces and coworking spots for a fee.
  12. Full service libraries. Coffee and lunch kiosks as well as other services such as child care centers and gamer stations are likely to become a part of the library. These resources will not only serve to keep patrons working at the library longer, but will also bring in much needed funding.
  13. Dramatically different websites. Most libraries are trying to improve their speed and ease of use so that users can quickly find the information they want. Many indicators show that this may be the wrong approach as it does nothing to draw new users to the library–merely facilitate use by those already knowledgeable about what is available. New websites may shift to a more humanistic approach, promoting those who work at the library, the community services offered at the library, and what makes the library a social and intellectual venue.
  14. School libraries reflect different learning styles. Long gone are the days of the stereotypical library so quiet that the librarian’s “shhh” could be heard across the room. Not only are libraries becoming active and vibrant places, but school libraries will likely create specific sections promoting learning based on the different learning styles. Small and large group work areas as well as the more traditional quite areas, areas that incorporate media, and physical learning and instruction spaces are just a few of the likely changes.
  15. Librarians integral to solving functional problems. The librarians of the future may well become effective design thinkers. This process requires librarians understanding and carefully observing their patrons’ usage patterns online and in the building to understand usability problems, then visualize possible solutions, and refine and implement creative solutions. When librarians become a part of the solution, innovation moves forward, keeping libraries an important and functional part of the community.

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