Tuesday 24 June 2014

Five years from now...

First, to get you in the mood for this topic, a blast from the past...

Personally, I regularly have mixed feelings when it comes to the future of the library. I've been working in libraries for 15 years now, and whilst the nature of our services have changed, there doesn't seem to have been a huge shift in the way that people see and use libraries. They're still seen by the public primarily as a source of materials for loan - be they print or, more recently, digital.

So, I was thinking, where will libraries be five years from now? Or, more importantly, where will people be, five years from now? Here are a few thoughts...

1. With mobile technology becoming faster and cheaper, there will be less of a need to visit the physical library to access collections. Especially when there's a scarcity in print materials, but an abundance of digital material at your fingertips.

2. With a substantial number of people in the community who are non-native English speakers, there is a need, not only for collections in LOTE and English learning, but also for multi-lingual access points for them to locate these resources.

3. With the changes in technology, there will be a growing demand in supporting the lifelong learning needs of those who need guidance in using new technology, and developing information literacy skills for the digital age.

4. Whilst people may be less reliant on access to print literature, they still value the opportunities to connect with literary culture in society, and engage in discussion with authors and commentators.

5. Regardless of trends in technology, there are still many people in the community who cannot afford to, or do not wish to, engage in new technology, and still connect most comfortably with print information.

This is of course, hardly a comprehensive cross-section of the information needs of people in the future. However, there is some apprehension in the industry whereby, as people become more connected and more time-poor, they will cease to use the library, since borrowing books take unnecessary time and effort.

However, the reality is that, in five - even ten - years from now, there will be plenty of people who will rely on libraries to maintain their connection with information and the community. The thing is that the majority of work performed by library staff involves the selection, cataloguing, processing and circulation of print material. In my experience, this has not changed in the past ten years. If there is a decreased demand on print materials, then this can only be a good thing, as it creates more scope to make meaningful connections with people in the communities, not primarily a source of collections, but first and foremost a provider of guidance in connecting information with people who need it, so that they can have the skills to help themselves in the future.

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