Far-future of libraries

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2016/08/25/far-future-of-libraries.html


I have a full time gig in a library makerspace, and from my experiences, the biggest thing that libraries have going for them is access; far and away, the most use our resources get is from people who don’t have (either due to inclination or circumstances) access to very core elements of our society and culture.

For many, this stops at books. But the library really starts to shine when it expands the number of available resources to include all sorts of wonderful things. This includes mundane things like a computer from which one can pay bills, but has grown to include social workers that proactively engage those of few means in the community. We have sound recording studios, book printing machines, gaming computers, online databases, genealogical resources, study and meeting spaces, and on and on (I cannot do justice to the sum total of services and resources offered by all the systems out there; other systems offer land, tools, instruments, it’s all fair game).

In my opinion, as long as the library continues to offer a collection of materials that people want/need access to, there will always be a place for them in our communities. It doesn’t have to be flashy, but I am excited by the new directions people are taking our public of institutions.

PS: I am totally going to pitch a gene-editing lab at the next vision meeting, by the way :slight_smile:


I am going to say that no matter what design, a public library is a lovely part of any community. You can have: literature, talks, art, artifacts. In other words the deep cultural division of museologists and and librarians must end.

Attend a lecture at Seattle Public Library or a soiree on the roof top of the Multnomah County Library and I think you will agree that publicly funded libraries are the best.

And also bring back insanely penciled cross referenced index cards.


I judge a library by its collection of National Geographics.

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I visited a small-town library a few weeks ago that had a lot of cool innovative stuff going on: they were almost finished with their Whisper Room, a soundproof room outfitted with a comfy chair as well as a really nice mic and recording setup that can be booked for either silent reading, study time, or podcast/music recording. They were excited about their upcoming Geek Day, featuring D&D, cosplay, and LARPing. And they just announced that they were eliminating all late fees across the board, which I’ve never seen anywhere else.


Our local library has, in addition to a large selection of books and computers with internet access, a theater for plays and lectures, a coffee shop and a workshop area equipped with sewing machines and 3D printers. And probably a few other things I’m not aware of yet. I can definitely see the definition of library shifting from merely a collection of books to a town’s major cultural center. Now if only they’d hire me there. :frowning:


I would like to see libraries adding more services and things as well, but they shouldn’t forget their roots, particularly the public libraries. There would be something sad about a library with a makerspace, a lending tool library, an art collection, a multimedia theatre, but no books. There are also people who are forgetting what libraries are about, which is access to information, not a babycare service, a business office, or a homeless shelter, although they frequently function as all of those.


I remember when the director of a library where I worked predicted there would no longer be a need for “physical libraries” because everything would be online. And he predicted it would happen in the next ten years.

That was 1998.

I’ve seen a lot of changes in libraries and a lot of new services and a big decline in print materials–mainly periodicals but books too–but not everything is online. And not everything is going that way.


One hundred likes to you for these words. I love the expansion of services in public libraries and the shift to becoming community centers. What I do see being neglected at times is the defining characteristic of a library is providing access to information. Get the shiny new tools, but spend as much on educating the public that you have them and what can be done with them.


The Berkeley tool lending library was doing this decades ago.

“Mom, why are there no libros in the library?”

“Because they’re all in the cloud, honey.”

“Then why do they still call it a library?”


This is the balance that most libraries are trying to maintain, be they academic, public, or school. The problem arises when libraries, in their efforts to remain relevant, try to be all things to all people without the necessary funding to achieve such goals. Libraries, perhaps more than any other public institution, are reeling from the changes wrought by digitized information. Whereas it was once taken for granted that libraries were necessary because they held the collection unaccessible elsewhere, librarians constantly fight against the uninformed administrator or board member that thinks “it’s all on the Internet now!” So, libraries must have the shiny new tools and maintain at least some traditional services all in the face of diminishing public support and funding.

Because a public library is more than books. It is an idea born from the notion that an educated populace is a well-governed populace. It is the people’s university that stands as a last resort against the likes of Trump. (All cynicism aside, I do really believe all of that, or I wouldn’t have devoted my life’s work to libraries.)


Thank you for stating it much better than I could.


So no love for calling it an infotecha? inforia? community center?

Nope, not in my opinion. Names matter. “Library” carries the weight and importance of shared knowledge in way those other terms cannot. A library can be and often is all those other things.


When I feel like trying to be polemical with the circulation and collection management librarians, I’ll boldly assert that books are the least important things about libraries. (Which is totally not true; that honor goes to our video game collection (I kid!)).

But the fact remains that books are inextricably tied to the very identity of libraries; it’s right there in the root of the word (libra, or book; a motif repeated visually in many logos and wayfinding icons).

I feel this can be a detriment to good public policy and overshadow all these other wonderful things. There are communities that are gutting library services because of this belief (and the corollary that people can just get this information on the Internet).

Not really disagreeing with anyone, by the way; keep sharing the library love!


Where is the Andrew Carnegie of our day, who will devote his ill-gotten or well-deserved fortune to opening more public libraries for everyone?

The man built over 2500 libraries in the US, British Isles, and around the world, because he believed anybody who was willing to put in the effort deserved a chance to improve themselves through reading. The main Hawaii public library downtown was founded as a Carnegie library, and I have a good thought for him every time I see it. (Reading the Wikipedia article on his libraries, I see Carnegie also introduced the “open stacks” concept and policy to libraries.)


The information literacy aspect of libraries and reference librarians seems to be the most significant aspect these days. You can check out a ten year old book with now obsolete advice or you can have a reference librarian show you to the internet and where to find up-to-date, reliable sources.

My SO has an MLIS and the I (information) part of the degree is what has served her best, especially since she didn’t get a formal librarian job.


Isn’t it sort of a moot point once everyone is forced to upload due to unrelenting population growth when almost everyone stops dying? (Can’t decide if I’m happy or bummed this will almost certainly be after I’m gone.)

Plus, if Trump is elected, do any of you really think libraries are going to survive anyway?

Yes! Something I think is being overlooked is not just the value of libraries but the value of librarians. I hear the importance of information professionals being downplayed regularly, sometimes by librarians themselves. What I commonly hear is “Everyone can just find what they need with Google.”

Several years ago the director of a library where I worked proposed scrapping the library catalog entirely because he felt it was costly and time-consuming to maintain and that no one used it anymore. The availability of WorldCat through Google, he said, made individual library catalogs obsolete.

Aside from the fact that we had data showing that people still used the catalog frequently I found errors in the Google version of WorldCat.