The Library of the Future

We have reached a critical point in the history of libraries and librarianship. Some of us believe that it is the end of the road. Others believe that certain adjustments must take place and suggest a number of extremes, based on the technological advancements of our time, that take this field off its path. Finally, there is a third category and this author is among them. Our colleagues in this category believe that any adjustments must first comply with the principles of librarianship, second with the users’ needs, and third with the technological advancements. This list of prioritized items is the difference of approach between the library professionals in the second and third categories. I refuse to discuss the professionals in the first category and their “doomsday” theory regarding the library’s future.

Let’s see now why this prioritized list in the third category is so important. In the second category, the professionals believe that print should be eliminated and only digital materials should exist. This idea is based on two facts: a. A lot of people today seek information online and read books and articles on e-readers and computers and b. The new facts in education require collaboration between students online and in physical spaces like the library. The approach in this case is to empty the library from the stacks and create more areas for collaboration, especially in cases that further expansion of the library is impossible. To make things worse, the concept of business and profit in libraries has taken over the principles of librarianship and stores with knick-knacks are taking the place of stacks. Some of us are trying to argue that the library is not a super market but in vain. Anyway, according to the professionals in the second category, this is the only solution for the future of the libraries.

The romantic professionals in the third category have a different approach based on the list of items mentioned above. They believe that the principles of librarianship must survive. Librarianship is not business. Libraries are not super markets. They are educational and recreational institutions where the advancement of the species has taken place for many centuries. When these principles are preserved and established, these professionals move on with the second item which is the users’ needs. People may argue that this should be the first concern. I will answer that, without the principles, the users’ needs will not be met adequately. Finally, the third item is technology. The technological advancements of our time and the ones in the near future must be acknowledged as the final step in the creation of the future library. Digitization is essential and must continue. However, a lot of people like to read books, meaning to hold the physical item book in their hands. Even technologically savvy people like this author prefer a physical book. Also, we romantic people like the idea of preserving a few traditional rooms in the library and its traditional architecture, especially in the academic library. As Jackson and Hahn (2011) have shown that the traditional exterior and interior in libraries, including the stacks, makes the libraries more inviting and promotes scholarship. Separate rooms must exist with all the required equipment for student collaboration. Technology is essential for librarianship. We are talking about a hybrid library where the old and the new co-exist. In our effort to move forward into the future, we must carry the past with us. This past provides the knowledge we need to move forward and will help us appreciate more the present and the future.

Jackson, H. L. and Hahn, T. B. (2011). Serving higher education’s highest goals: Assessment of the academic library as place. College and Research Libraries, 72(5), pp. 428-442.

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