We all know that libraries in recent years have done an outstanding job of justifying their ongoing importance by branching out into new areas and adapting to the needs of patrons. But where are we going? What does the next decade have in store for libraries? Librarians from Brodart, along with one of our customers, have gazed into their proverbial crystal balls to share their predictions for what the future will bring. Here’s what they see.
(Spoiler alert: We think public libraries will still be alive and kicking in 10 years.)
It’s almost impossible to answer this because the rate of change in our society is staggering. For example, we can’t even prepare our students for the work environment because the jobs they will fill don’t exist yet. That said, I believe that libraries must concentrate on being agile, nimble, and adaptable to local community needs. This may involve identifying needs the community doesn’t even know it has, and possibly hiring staff with backgrounds outside of traditional library disciplines—in areas such as health, finances, and social services.
Going out into the community (either physically or technologically), rather than waiting for the community to come to the library, is also a must; increased collaboration with other community agencies should constantly evolve. Methods of defining “success” will also change—the numbers of library cards issued, materials circulated, or program attendees do not tell the whole story. The role the library plays in the lives of the community members will define the success or failure of the library in the not-too-distant future.
People may wear different fashions, but they will still come to the brain and heart of the community to check out materials in multiple formats, to attend creative storytimes, and to use not only computers, but also new technologies. The virtual presence of libraries will increase, but their physical presence will remain. Most importantly, libraries will continue to connect people to information and ideas, furthering both personal and civic enrichment.
I expect the “destination library” trend to continue, where the focus is more about spaces and personal connections (studio, maker, collaboration, discussion) than materials. That said, materials will always be vitally important and a draw in their own right. More and more new libraries are being constructed as integrated components of civic and cultural centers—in other words, combined with local government and recreational venues. Thus, their value is built into the infrastructure, making advocacy that much easier.
Libraries will also continue to diversify their products and services. Within electronic media, libraries will offer more downloadable content and online courses. Library buildings will house and/or lend non-traditional things: seeds, bicycle repair kits, and cake pans; and provide non-traditional services such as passports and digital conversion.
Research shows how much Millennials use and value libraries. With that generation and post-Millennials now outnumbering Boomers, I think libraries will see much growth in the foreseeable future. It’s the dawn of a new era!
Public libraries will continue to play a vital role in the United States over the next 5-10 years, both as places and because of their services/products. They will continue to evolve over that time period as well, changing to meet the needs of their communities. We can already see some of this evolution happening, and I expect it will continue.
Some libraries are adopting new job titles to reflect changing needs—from librarian, clerk, staff, etc., to things like experience facilitator, experience navigator, experience supervisor, and librarian of practice. These new roles speak to the vision of the library and library employees being active participants with others in the community. There is room to try new things, for great customer service, for outreach.
Public libraries will continue to be important in terms of being destinations, connecting people, and offering products and services with equitable access for all. Free WiFi, availability of library materials (both electronic and physical), study rooms, meeting rooms, etc. In addition to equitable access to these community spaces and services, libraries provide neutral locations for discussion of controversial national, state, and local issues. If trends towards blaming the poor for their poverty, great chasms between the 1% and the rest of us, and polarization between groups and races continues, then the importance of our public libraries will become even more evident.
Due to patron demand, libraries are putting increasingly more resources toward digital products. Some have taken down shelving to accommodate more seating for people to use for meetings, working, studying, etc. Libraries are trying harder to engage much more with the community—conducting outreach to businesses, for example. They are also providing many opportunities for informal learning (e.g., makerspaces). I think these are the paths they will continue to follow as they become friendlier—a far cry from the “Shushing” libraries of days gone by (thank goodness!).
Based on observations from my visits with libraries around the country, I predict that libraries will fully evolve into true learning centers, whether knowledge is offered through books or experiences. Books will continue to have a home in libraries, but the collections will be significantly streamlined to make way for other community-minded wants and needs. Community engagement will continue to be essential: providing flex or dual use space, meeting areas, computer access, programming, and social services—such as career or literacy assistance.
It’s all about the user experience. Books won’t go away, but they will play a different, and perhaps supporting, role. I believe printed children’s material will continue to be in demand and even grow in popularity, especially the number of readers and anything related to STEM/STEAM. However, the scope of adult and teen book collections will become narrower and may focus on complementing the programming being offered at the time (e.g., a continual stream of new cookbooks that correspond with featured cooking classes.) Bestsellers and popular authors/series will still be ordered in print format, along with their electronic versions, but purchases that are taken “off the top” may be coupled with a patron-driven acquisitions structure.
A recent article from The Atlanta Journal Constitution does a great job describing the “growing pains” that Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System’s Central Library is experiencing and how best to update an oversized library from the 1980s into a new and exciting space that stays relevant for years to come.
I think that in the next 5-10 years libraries will definitely continue the trend of marketing themselves as community meeting places rather than study/reading areas. I think there will be a greater focus on maintaining meeting rooms and specialized spaces like studios, makerspace areas, etc. I also think that there will be an increase in the number of specialized branch libraries that serve a specific population: for example, a technology branch that serves a rural area where many residents lack computer access, or a children’s branch serving an area with multiple elementary schools.
Jessica Russell, Collection Development Manager, Harris County Public Library (Houston, TX)
What I know for certain is that I don’t know where libraries will be in 10 years. The past decade has been crammed full of change to the point where change (and the accompanying chaos and excitement) is the most consistent variable. My goal is now to reimagine our library collections with an eye towards sustainability, flexibility, and community engagement. I want libraries to be positioned to pivot as quickly and as often as necessary to continue to meet the needs of our users, since their lives are also rapidly changing. I believe there will always be a role for libraries to play as long as we focus on what we can contribute to our communities.
How do you see libraries evolving in the next 10 years? Let us know!
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