Future of Libraries
It is almost impossible to predict the future. A few years ago I attended a wonderful workshop on what the future will hold and how libraries can help to meet the needs of the new that is just on the horizon. Then the economy hit its most recent speed bump. None of those futurists predicted the economic downturn and how it would impact libraries and the communities at large.
Recently, I purchased and read a fascinating book by Dan Gardner. Its title is Future Babble: why expert predictions are next to worthless, and you can do better. It is a fascinating book. He goes through the process of the futurist and explains how their theories are based on improbable information and little tested hypothesis. Flexibility seems to be the best antidote for meeting what ails us in the future and not putting all of our resources into one idea.
This is a good premise for our libraries also. What is the future of the book? What will the Internet be like in five years? How will people use computers to get information in 2020? Will there still be computers in 2020? All of these questions have huge implications for libraries and how we will serve you in the future.
Libraries need to be flexible. Libraries need to look at the spaces they have and use them most efficiently and not just look to see how they can accommodate more stuff, but how they can accommodate more people.
Books are important, very important. We will be buying close to 15,000 of them this year alone. However, we understand that how people are reading is changing almost every day.
As people change, libraries will change also. We are currently buying thousands of ebooks and eaudiobooks each year to recognize the current trend. But that is the current trend. We will be able to adapt as the next great wave of the information society hits.
Here is another example; 15 years ago the most important reference book any library owned was its paper encyclopedias. In a class I had in college, we learned the subtle differences between each encyclopedia and even the differences between the 1911 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica and the 1995 edition. This was seriously important information. Today, purchasing paper encyclopedias is a thing of the past. They are not updated regular enough to warrant the cost of processing and storing. Encyclopedias are in electronic format.
What will libraries be like in 2020? I do not want to make any predictions. But I can say that we will be here. We will be providing materials in many formats. We will be helping people get the information they need and teach them how to navigate the Internet. We will be anticipating what will be coming next.