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Author's profile photo Celia Brown

Reinventing Libraries for the Future

How long has it been since you visited a library — the brick and mortar variety, that is? You might be surprised to find that it more closely resembles an Apple store than the cluttered building with floor-to-ceiling books that we enjoyed as children. Libraries are facing an identity crisis as the need for buildings full of books becomes less relevant to our lives.

However, the original premise of the traditional library — shared resources — is still highly relevant. It’s just a different set of resources that are critical today. Instead of offering books, periodicals and microfilm, libraries offer space for work, community activities and a chance to engage with the latest technology, from e-readers to 3-D printers. Some even have their own coffee shop!

The future of the library is not yet fully defined, but the possibilities seem infinite. So what will the library of tomorrow look like?

Some libraries are moving full speed ahead into the future. When the Digital Commons opened at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, D.C. in July, it featured a 3-D printer with a smart panel design, on-demand book binding machine, dozens of desktops, tables set up for folks bringing their own devices, a Skype station and a vast co-working space the library calls the “Dream Lab.”

And yes, libraries still have books. But you no longer have to wander through the dusty stacks to find the one you need. North Carolina State University’s Hunt Library features 100 group study rooms and technology-equipped spaces to aid learning, research and collaboration. The library boasts a robot-driven bookBot, an automated book-delivery system that holds up to 2 million volumes in one-ninth of the space of conventional shelving. The bookBot is 50 feet-wide by 160-feet long by 50-feet tall, and it delivers books in minutes through requests placed in the library’s online catalog.

The tomorrow’s library may not even be a place to go for stuff.

In 2020, the public library will be a concept more than a place,” wrote Bill Ptacek, director of the King County Library system in Issaquah, Wash., in Library Journal. “The library will be more about what it does for people rather than what it has for people. As society evolves and more content becomes digital, people will access information in different ways.”

What is your prediction for the future of libraries?

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      Author's profile photo Tammy Powlas
      Tammy Powlas

      I volunteer at a local library and it is as busy as ever.  People are still checking out books, kids still check out the board books, and the free Internet still attracts a busy crowd.

      It offers eBooks as well.

      I am not sure the libraries will be all gone by 2020, as in 2013, it is still an active place.

      Author's profile photo Celia Brown
      Celia Brown
      Blog Post Author

      Hi Tammy-

      So glad to hear that you have an active library in your community! While I agree with you that libraries won't be "gone" by 2020, I am already seeing changes in their use. My kids now go to the library and participate in music or "borrow" a box of science experiments or magic tricks. Thanks for your comment!

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      Here in Houston, we spend many hours driving long distances in our private vehicles, and thus the audio books are very popular at the library. I saw a news report recently about libraries becoming increasingly about lending non-book resources, such as tools that would be impractical to purchase for infrequent use. Between the internet services, book lending and other forms of lending, I am with Tammy: I think libraries will be with us.


      Author's profile photo Celia Brown
      Celia Brown
      Blog Post Author

      Hi Gretchen-

      I certainly hope they will stick around but I included Bill Ptacek's perspective because I felt it offered a diverse and provocative perspective on the topic.
      Thanks for your reply!