Try typing Libraries are into Google.
If you’re expecting your results to be positive, something like Libraries are thriving you’re in for disappointment. My first Google search told me that Libraries are dying and then that Libraries are obsolete.
I’ve also been hearing that libraries can be replaced by the internet, and school libraries are unnecessary as all students are now carrying one in their pocket … a mobile phone.
Ok, so libraries are dead.
Long Live the library.
Just hold on a minute! Let's look a little closer at this.
What is a library?
What do we mean when we talk about the library?
Are we referring to buildings stacked full of books?
Spaces bathed in hallowed silence where food, drink, and social interactions are banned?
Places where librarians sit behind desks and services are accessible only by being physically present, within business hours?
By thinking this, are we conforming to and perpetuating an out-dated stereotype?
Imagine instead, if we questioned and challenged that perception and wondered out loud what libraries really are, and as communities we visioned and brought to life what they could be?
The Library of the 20th Century measured success in units called transactions; how many books were issued and how many people physically entered the library during the hours of opening, but door counts and borrowing statistics don’t show the value libraries add to communities.
Libraries in the 21st Century have been remixed and consider space, operation, services and the user experience in equal measure.
How libraries present themselves, collaborate and market their products and services is changing too.
By shifting our thinking about what is a library we transform our thinking of why we have libraries.
We shift from thinking of libraries as buildings which absorb and store content and facilitate knowledge consumption, to buildings with spaces — both physical and virtual which
- celebrate the transformation of existing content — both print and digital, into new knowledge
- encourage continual repurposing of the library’s physical spaces to accommodate diverse library customers and their activities
- which empower and enable our communities to make sense of information overload which is the internet, and to find the meaning and sense they need, guided by librarians acting as collaborative research mentors
- and most importantly, library services and spaces are inclusively1 designed and intentionally put the library user at the forefront of our why we are providing a library to our community.
Like education, libraries have a key role to play in community identity. They provide a connection to resources, knowledge and services in an egalitarian way.
But do we really need libraries?
Over recent years, the introduction of the smartphone and apps has seen suggestions made; usually by ill-informed media, that physical libraries and access to the printed books are going the same way as dinosaurs.
Now, pause and think about banks and banking, radio stations, supermarkets, retail stores, movie theatres and even schools? Are these services facing extinction, or are they reinventing their services, spaces and products to align with new technologies and society where the end user and buyer often determine survival of the fittest? Technology has sped up the extinction of services and spaces that failed to respond to significant and dominant drivers of the day.
Is there a road map for the future?
Published annually the NMC Horizon Report puts a big picture lens on important developments and trends in technology for their impact on academic and research libraries across the globe. This year’s 2015 edition has some synergistic parallels with CORE Education’s Ten Trends.
The Future Libraries report published in July 2015 by Arup2 wrote:
“libraries are going through a renaissance, both in term of the social infrastructure they provide and in terms of a diversification of the service and experiences they offer. In corporate environments they are playing an increasingly important role in the provision of collaborative and diverse workspaces. In communities they are evolving into hubs for education, health, entertainment, and work. Libraries are encouraging people back into the physical space through the integration of, for example, cafes, free Wi-Fi, makerspaces or child care” (p.5).
The culmination of research and thoughts produced during a series of collaborative workshops held in London, Melbourne, San Francisco and Melbourne, these highly accessible report groups together the trends, insights, and user stories of participants and clusters four main areas that explore possible roles for the library of 2025:
- Participatory Knowledge Preservation
- Enabling Collaboration and Decision-making
- Hubs for Community Wellbeing
- Seamless Learning Experiences
If we needed more convincing that the library is not dying, Mark Abernethy’s article, Libraries: Far from dead, talks of libraries, “providing a space smartphones and email don’t. … the most heartening aspect of future libraries is their people-based function and the realisation that communication and collaboration are still best conducted in learning spaces rather than between smartphones or on email.(Libraries : Far from dead, 16 Aug.2015).
Do more with less
In July LIANZA (Library and Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa held the inaugural Future of Libraries Summit (#FoL15) in Wellington.
Over 160 people from across the library and information sector and beyond considered the challenges libraries face and what is needed to be prepared to support New Zealand society in 2025.
‘Aimed at driving greater collaboration in the sector this future-focused summit was looking for concrete actions to cement the integral role that libraries play in their communities, whether those communities are made up of academics, students, employees, or general public” (p.3) 3
Wholly dependent on civic funding, libraries, like all government and council services in most countries, face shrinking budgets and fiscal drivers to do more with less. Finding alternative funding sources and creating strategic partnership initiatives are an emerging trend worldwide. Although, bucking this trend is South Korea who, between 2009 and 2013, invested US$493 million to open new libraries.4
The LIANZA FoL Summit vision for New Zealand Libraries in 2025 is inspiring, and above all achievable.
“It’s 2025. Libraries are an integral part of the community that they serve with everyone, from their stakeholders to their decision makers, passionate and informed supporters.
A single library card, issued to all kiwis at birth (along with their GST number) provides access to an incredible range of physical and digital resources.
Not just information on demand, anywhere, anytime – but also experiences, ideas, and creativity. Greater collaboration in the back-end with shared administration and more consortia purchasing releases the resources to develop greater diversity in the front end as libraries evolve and change in partnership with their communities.
The open access debate, extended to include not just content but the platforms that content sits on, has all but been won, as the economic benefits of “open” are first demonstrated then realised. Effective advocacy has ensured balanced copyright law in the wake of the TPP, and libraries are utilising shared resources to spark community innovation and creativity.
Biculturalism is no longer an aspirational goal but the operating norm, with many librarians operating in a bi-lingual environment. Librarian’s skillsets have also expanded into other areas, as has the variety of professionals incorporating library and information management components within their qualifications.
From teachers to programmers to business professionals an understanding of the principles of information management is considered key.
Libraries are not only the place to be but the place to work. A seamless interface presents all New Zealand libraries to the user as a single network, supporting each kiwi from early childhood through to old age, providing support with literacy, learning, and social contact.
And it’s been at least five years since someone said that they thought libraries were an anachronism that was only about books.” (p.8)5
“When a library is open, no matter its size or shape, democracy is open too”
Bill Moyers, “The Public Library”, 2014
It's all about our customers
Libraries, their services and their staff have been the original hungry caterpillars for generations. Hungry to improve and better services for the users they passionately serve, they’ve munched (sifted) through information in all its different shapes and forms, to provide what their communities need to morph (grow) into information literate and knowledgeable butterflies (citizens), able to contribute and collaborate to their communities and societies well being and decision making. Technology changes and evolves and libraries respond, and so begin the life cycle of the library again.
At the heart of our communities are people; He tangata, He tangata, He tangata.
The library service in a school, a community, a corporate environment or a university offers equitable access to personally curated, targeted information, resources and books, and delivers to it’s community a service that a search engine or SIRI can’t.
Naturally social and inherently curious, we human beings have always strived to learn, to be challenged, to change and improve.
It’s called progress; its evolution.
Libraries fill the gaps created by the digital explosion, increasingly economically disparate communities, the loss of community meeting spaces and more.
They offer spaces where what’s in your bank account does not determine your experience.
Today’s libraries are community incubators where ideas can seed, grow and be shared, and where people can go to read.
Libraries aren’t dying, they are continuing to evolve.
“A library in the middle of a community is a cross between an emergency exit, a life raft and a festival. They are cathedrals of the mind; hospitals of the soul; theme parks of the imagination. On a cold, rainy island, they are the only sheltered public spaces where you are not a consumer, but a citizen, instead. A human with a brain and a heart and a desire to be uplifted, rather than a customer with a credit card and an inchoate "need" for "stuff." A mall–the shops–are places where your money makes the wealthy wealthier. But a library is where the wealthy's taxes pay for you to become a little more extraordinary, instead. A satisfying reversal. A balancing of the power.”
– Caitlin Moran6
- Library of the Future
- What to expect from libraries in the 21st century
- Collaboratories and bubbles of shush – how libraries are transforming
- Designing the Seattle Central Library – Joshua Prince Ramus
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