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What is the future of libraries?

Libraries withdraw (either throw out, resale, or recycle) print materials all the time. Many libraries say that these print materials are being replaced by resources on the web or non print resources. But with the rising costs of subscriptions, licensing, legal issues involved with copyright, privacy and what not, how can libraries provide access to all of these types of materials? Are libraries throwing out some of our heritage when withdrawing print materials? Where are libraries heading and how can they navigate the waters of freedom of expression in a digital age, security, public access, or free services.

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    Sep 19 2011: Why don't we just start heading to the library more often, and encourage others to do the same. Then we wont have to worry about the future of libraries. Start a movement or something, one that encourages frequent visits, something personalized, include a book group or something. People want the libraries, but we need to reconcile them into our lives (and our schedule) once again.
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      Sep 24 2011: Eduardo tu punto de vista esta nutrido de un profundo sentido comùn. Necesitamos reconciliarnos con los libros. Ellos estàn bien, nosotros somos los que nos alejamos. Felicidades por tu sensatez.
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        Oct 4 2011: Thanks! And not that problems don't come up along the way (given the way out technology and our culture are advancing) but yeah, I just feel we really are the ones who distanced themselves. The libraries didn't go anywhere, they're still where they were. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but those were the words I was looking for "we're the ones who put distance". Thanks for the help, its really bothersome to have an incomplete thought.
  • Sep 18 2011: I see libraries as not just a home for print material and printing services from the internet access that they offer, but as an important community hub. Many local authorities in the UK are cutting back on social and community provision and 'saving public funds' by closing many services and this unfortunately includes libraries. But a library can be an important base of community activity and provide a focal point that can bring many areas of the community together and introduce many to the wonder of books and learning for the first time.Print, electronic, local or cloud. I love libraries.
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      Sep 19 2011: Libraries have positive effects for the community and society - way beyond literature and education. The economic theory even has a name for such benefits which you can not count, but are obviously existing - so called "external effects".
      Wayne - you are more than right. And the UK government will realize soon that cutting funds for libraries will increase other social costs - and they might understand that libraries were quite cost-effective.....

      I see a parallel between the non-regulation of banks and profits ruining the world and cutting of public funds ruining the world. Somehow UK governments lost touch to reality - it is so sad.
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      Sep 24 2011: Wayne a librarie is the right amount of books that you need or love or read. You dont have to wait for institucional funds or support from gobernement. You can do your own librarie in your home. Then you are one of the community centers if you invite to your family or friends to read or discuss some about some book. Why you dont organize a reders net in your neighborhood?
  • Sep 18 2011: My local library is always full of people reading to their children, using the computers, and browsing physical books. I don't think humanity is ready to give up tangible resources. I personally hate snuggling up to a digital device in bed or as i read outside. I think libraries are headed towards having higher quality materials. Even if a book starts off in digital format, if the sales are good and there should be no problem with copyrights.
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    Oct 9 2011: Libraries I think will be a little like churches: cold, quiet places where one goes to meditate :)
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    Oct 5 2011: Digital books are a passing fad and it is foolhardy for libraries to get rid of printed material in the wake of such temporary trends.
  • Oct 4 2011: What about this idea,if you are interested about something in the Chinese medicine,we put a professor in the library.Let him give you some direction.It's far more better than the pdf.
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    Sep 26 2011: In Japan, So many people took their books out of their homes to book scan shops & came back with a small hard drive. This helped in creating an extra space & storing valuable information for future easy referrences.
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    Sep 26 2011: The primary purpose will be public access to the internet unless we socialize that access. There will still be buildings to store these books but it will be more like a warehouse than a library.

    Most forms of physical media will phase out which is why I collect books now.
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    Sep 24 2011: The British Library has gone digital - showing how new technology can increase access to its collections. An example - maybe even an international role modell to combine the best of online and offline?!

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      Sep 25 2011: Can anyone 'borrow' from the digital library? Or do you have to be a member of the library?

      What a great way to be able to see the collections of the libraries around the world! While I will always prefer a book in my hand, if I can be given the opportunity to view some of the books in the British Library, or a library in Sydney or anywhere on earth, I'll gladly become a member of the worldwide library association!
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      Sep 24 2011: Those are great ideas, Vartan. Some libraries are already implementing them. My own favourite library has comfortable chairs for reading and others for enjoying cds with head phones. It has such a wide variety of things to learn from "play away books", to cds, to books on cd or tape, to movies, and even books for e-readers.
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          Sep 26 2011: Jason you are right. I express sincerely my humble apologies to all.
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    Sep 23 2011: Maybe the best future of libraries is to be reading.
    • Sep 24 2011: Yes, that is good! However, humans do not NEED a library to read. Humans need to GO to a library and READ! (naww, too much trouble) That in itself, will be the down fall of real libraries. HUMANS! With Respect to You!
  • Sep 22 2011: If we aim to educate the entire human race, let the resources of the most advanced schools in the world be available to people hungry for knowledge.
    • Sep 24 2011: Hi Rudy,
      This is an excellent reply! One question, are humans really hungry for "knowledge" ??
      We listen to the news, 24/7. Most humans hunger for, housing, food, water, electricity. So,, I do not get it? I I am beginning to think, knowledge has taken the back "burner" ?? With Respect to You Rudy.
      • Sep 26 2011: Hi,

        Not all people were given the 24/7 access to information from news and other forms of media. There are several social and economical constraints such as poverty, government censorship and others.
        • Sep 26 2011: Hi back at ya!
          I agree with you! However, one does not have the excuse of poverty to visit a library. UNLESS, one lives in a society, that does not have a library. I know, I know, there are societies that have no access to a library. Humans do not need 24/7 news. Humans need libraries, to learn in the future. They need to read about how bad we screwed up! ( sad face)
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      Sep 27 2011: I believe this is already being done. Open source education. I will post when I find the school that started this. Its top tier schools that are doing this too.

      MIT opencourseware
      Stanfords engineering everywhere
      Academic earth

      To name a few
  • Sep 20 2011: Library use has gone up recently due to the recession even as library funding has declined. People use them to save money, find jobs, do research for new businesses, for community meetings, and to access the Internet if they don't have it at home, etc. I think the future is that they become platforms for sharing all kinds of things (tools, seeds, sports equipment, toys, etc.), not just media, and play a important role as open access community centers in the transition to a sustainable society.

    And coincidentally, Shareable Magazine is doing a series on the future of the libraries. Part one of three is: "Libraries Aren't Dying, They're Evolving": http://shareable.net/blog/the-evolving-library

    The author Cat Johnson says that in the end, libraries become what we want them to become, and advises people to get involved and help shape their direction.
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    Sep 19 2011: You are proposing Public Access and Free Services for the Libraries of the future: If digital or not, this implies costs and they need to be paid. You are right about this. Agreed.

    If our VALUES make us want Public Access and Free Services, then we must have and provide for public funds to do so. 1 + 1 = 2 ?!

    An Alternative Example from Istanbul:
    The "Music Library" is the first private music library in Turkey, opening a great opportunity for young population, mostly students interested in music. http://bit.ly/o39pfR
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    Sep 15 2011: Hi Jennifer Eustis
    Libraries, the actual physical structures with printed and other materials in them serve us in ways that no web site can. Besides the feel of books as cultural comfort, they also inspire. If books and people are not reaching each other, it is the job of librarians to facilitate those relationships however they can. See http://www.nypl.org/blog/2011/05/16/know-past-find-future-nypl-100
    and you can download the book written by the crazy people who spent all night in the library writing that celebratory tome. Check it out.

    Mark Hurych
    • Sep 15 2011: I really like the idea of looking to the past to understand our future. Thanks for the links.
  • Sep 14 2011: Definitely an interesting topic. In the city where I live (Toronto), there have been discussions on funding cuts to libraries in past months.

    I think for the public library system to stay alive, they need to focus on their strength of in-person interactions, and also get on board heavily with the digital world (ie. allowing you to "take out" ebooks, and provide other free subscription-based services).
  • Sep 14 2011: I agree with Debra that libraries are much more than books or e-books. They provide a large array of services. In my area, the large academic library has labtops, iPads, cameras, and bikes to loan out. They have journals in print and online from around the world. During finals, they have programs to help students destress. However, in order to meet all of these demands, it takes more money each year. And from what I've seen, towns and institutions are giving less to libraries. Take Oregon or Boston where branches have been closed.
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      Sep 15 2011: Well, the academic library in your area is fantastic, I must say! Unfortunately they are not the same everywhere else, especially if they are public libraries (at least in Argentina).
  • Sep 14 2011: I imagine that for the near future (20-40 years) libraries will still have a presence on college campuses if only to maintain traditions.

    As the generations who value physical books die out, libraries will loose a lot of patronage.

    It is just an example of one technology replacing another. The phone replacing the telegraph. The internet and digital technologies replacing the library for information retrieval.

    Eventually, I can see a time when physical books become a novelty kept only for the bragging rights amongst colleges, cities or those who see themselves as the educated elite.
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      Sep 14 2011: Yes what you say is true but I don't think in any near year anything could replace books. See I hate staring at the screen, I get snippets online but nothing can replace book reference.
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        Sep 14 2011: http://pimob.priceindia.in/mobile-phone/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/Amazon-Kindle-ebook-reader.jpg
        You can read books from this...no staring at the screen...looks like paper!
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          Sep 15 2011: guys guys please don't replace books.. something physical is far better than virtual please..
      • Sep 15 2011: In addition to what Srijan added, imagine if you had never grown up with books.

        Try to imagine how primitive books might seem to future generations.

        Ken Robinson made an excellent point about how younger generations tend not wear wrist watches anymore because they have cell phones which can do so much more.

        We are experiencing a paradigm shift and the shift is away from physical books.
        • Sep 15 2011: This is so true. It's amazing how visual oriented we have become. Even in libraries, the DVD, streaming, and sound recording collections grow every day. Where course reserves in academic libraries were mostly books, they tend to be online resources, DVDs, or streaming videos.
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          Sep 15 2011: Books are more than information. For inquiry and research nothing can compare with the internet which gets better and better every day, but text and illustrations on a screen will never be comparable to the physical and aesthetic experience of a well made book...
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          Sep 15 2011: Still, the future is probably going to be a lot more digital resources and reading from e-readers/tablets. I really hope however that they will preserve at least a few libraries with physical books. This is partly because of the fact that it is really great to walk into a large library and be overwhelmed by the sheer number of physical books on the shelves.
    • Sep 15 2011: I agree that books will become a novelty though it will be unpleasant for me and a few friends of mine. We love the feeling of finishing a book. Closing it and setting it down. SEEING how many pages were there, what we accomplished. Reading digital books simply isn't as satisfying. Sure we get the same information but the satisfaction and feelings of accomplishment are no longer there.
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    Sep 13 2011: If societies have any hope of surviving and prospering, I believe that preserving libraries is vital.
    There is no service in a society which does more for the advancement of a culture than libraries do. I am passionate about them as a user and as a beneficiary.
    I took my children to library reading programs when I was a young mother. The staff there were kind, considerate, engaged and proactive about the life of our community. I credit the influence of libraries for helping me become the first person in my family to every go to university and then to go on to graduate degrees. All of my children went to university as well and that is five for five. We glimpsed a world into which none of us had access before and we ran with the things we learned. Libraries are without question an amazing resource for transforming lives.

    Recently, on a TED conversation I agreed to try something different for 30 days. I decided to walk to the library (8 km round trip) because I was too sedentary and to help the environment rather than drive. When I got there, I spent more time there than usual to take advantage of my long walk. I suddenly realized the social service for the lost and lonely of our society that is conducted by librarians with patience and dignity.
    Finally, we should remember that even when Rockefeller and Carnegie needed to revamp their images, PR firms of the time advised them to establish libraries.
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      Sep 13 2011: Libraries are always present, so the future or the past are meaningless.
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      Sep 16 2011: Debra, Perhaps libraries may die but that doesnt mean people cant meet in a social aspect to enjoy books, stories whatever format they are in.

      I suppose I am thinking of when a writer promotes a book, he/she gets out there and presents it. These small events could actually become more a social event and important to those that wish to engage their familes in these activities. Much like....
      Weekly calender; mon, take kids to park, tues. washing and cleaning. wed, meeting with firends. thurs, Mr frapper's book launch (bring picnic for kids) etc...
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        Sep 24 2011: Hi Robert! Thanks for another good suggestion. I have to say however, that I still think libraries are the best experience for young families. All the other experiences you mention are wonderful but they do not sum up to as much as libraries have offered in my estimation.
  • Sep 13 2011: good question. they'll probably be converted to online book stores or maybe an e-reader will have a bar code that scans the books and leaves them there for a limited time
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    Sep 13 2011: I think this is a very interesting idea, trying to imagine the future always is. I don't believe libraries will be gone in our lifetime or even in the generation after that, but there is somewhat of a decline. With all of these electronic readers, libraries become mostly useless. You don't necessarily have to maintain or refurbish data. The problem is, people like me still enjoy a physical book over reading a screen. It's more convenient for many people to rent books from the library rather than buy them, too.
    I was in my local library today and noticed there were so many people, despite being the middle of a weekday. Libraries may be dying slowly, but they still have plenty of use. Besides the book aspect, they're great for learning of all styles. Internet access, audiobooks, and the occasional expert are there to be used for "free."
    The only thing I can complain of about non-physical learning is that you have to look to find things. You can go to Google to look for a resource hub, like a virtual library, to find various topics. What about the times when you don't know what you're looking for? You can't just skim Google and find specific things that interest you. But you can in a library. As it was mentioned in Hans Rosling's statistics talk, there is so much information not available to the public through the internet. Some of that information can be found in books. And it's free.

    All in all, the library as we know it may die some day, but I can't see it happening in the near future.
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    Oct 8 2011: I would think of the future of libraries should be based on the key words that users find then the libraries' engines will send the ebooks that closely met the requirements of the users. Based on the ranking of the key words that used by users, they can suggest which one is needed. In other words, libraries will work like news RSS mechanism.
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    Oct 8 2011: If somebody dont want his books because dont see any future in them, please send it to me, to enhance my own library
    I'll really be delighted with your donations.
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      Oct 8 2011: Not yet. I still use my library for soundproofing !
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    Oct 7 2011: The question really is what is happening to the brain in the library that is missing in the electronic version. Obviously the electronic version is superior on so many levels it does not need pointed out.


    1. Its an emotional / historical attachment. Pure conditioning and a generation without books will not even think it is an issue.

    2. There is something happening from the physical motor and 3d interaction with the book in the brain that is more engrossing

    We know from neuroscience that motor activity / visuospatial skills and learning are linked through the thalamus to striatum and then back to the temporal encoding sites of the hippocampus. So getting up to go find then pick up a book and flick through it activating a lot of in between priming sequences that might aid in consolidation.

    I try to offset this personally by having about 4 workstations around my flat with about a dozen screens, many touch and in a 3d desktop environment. Also trying to convert this to stereoscopic use for massive spatial immersion.

    Each workstation is dedicated to different areas. I have a USB drive and am forced to get up and go round swap drives, move data around. Sure i could have it all linked through a hub, but then i will just end up sitting down too much.

    Maybe these new 3d mobile devices will be the solution. i,e. The LG autostereoscopic mobile phone just on the market is the start, then there will be the iPAD version. So you will be on the move and the information interaction will be both physical and stereoscopic (holographic) in space.

    and how to simulate it
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    Oct 6 2011: Hi Jennifer ... I haven't read through the 94 comments currently available, but I hope that someone has pointed out to you that not all libraries are funded to the same extent, nor do they all serve the same purpose.

    A "circulating library" such as a public or school library has neither the space nor resources to maintain effective archives. Did you know that it has been estimated that it costs approximately $40 a year to keep each book on a library shelf, whether it is being used or not?

    But you should not fear any loss of heritage - the Library of Congress has at least one copy of every book ever published in the USA. And always will, barring an major catastrophe.

    If you are speaking of academic libraries, I feel confident that the only journals etc that are been culled are ones with the same content available through databases such as Lexis Nexis - where they can be much more rapidly searched than is the case with print resources.

    Where are libraries heading? The same place they always were, since the times of the Alexandrian Library, but within the budget constraints that are beyond their control. There is no institution on this planet that is more committed to public access than Libraries.
  • Oct 5 2011: I think the term "library" confines the parameters of how we think of this institution. What if we called it "The Learning Center" or "The Information Station". All of your ideas then are applicable. There would be no debate about printed or digital as it wouldn't matter how we get our "Learning" or "Information". Lots of classes are held at these institutions now so why not expand that process to actual college credit certified courses. The local business community could get involved to effect the process so we might be able to deliver training classes in whatever the local economy job structure demands. This institution could then evolve to become THE local hotspot for all of a community's functions. Now if only Starbucks would make a big push to get into them also.....?
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    Oct 5 2011: It is clear that ebooks and the latest technology have completely overturned the book market. Some writers already offer their own books through the Web, usually for a charge. But the Internet is more than a showcase. The Web is also a place of exchange, a channel through which the dialogue between the author and his readers can take place without intermediaries. So we will see more and more new reader groups and communities with the same interest. The members of these networks will develop interactions, not only with the writer, but also with the other members of these virtual communities. This development probably means the disappearance of the traditional literature market, although there will always be a place for the promotion and publication market. Authors and publishers will therefore have to adapt their relations to this development. It is obvious that publishers will also use virtual tools as a communication means and adapt to the new technologies in a creative and commercial manner.
  • Oct 1 2011: What I expect is that eventually libraries will only be places to keep the old original texts. As a result, there will be very few libraries in the world. Why keep libraries when all the books are online? For some, it's because they don't like the feel of reading on a computer, tablet, or even an e-reader. This will, however, change eventually when other technologies are used like e-paper. Technologies that give you the feel and comfort of reading from a book without having the actual book.

    Moreover, the generations that will come after us will probably be using books less than we do. South Korea and Turkey have already started planning to replace tablets with books, and eventually most of the world will make the transfer from real books to e-books. Future generations will not be looking for the comfort or feel of a normal book if they are more familiar with an e-book.

    Another interesting thing we might see in the future are open-source books. What if there comes a time when many authors offer their books for free? Imagine the possibilities...
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    Oct 1 2011: They will / must evolve. That being said, predicting the form of that evolution will be influenced but not solely determined by the technology of the day. Humans will still need a place to aggrigate, or in dense housing situations - to escape their confines. It will also continue to be used by cultural subgroups divergently.
  • Sep 27 2011: We readers first came to web then the books followed us. Referring to the case of fees, this concept is new and it will take some time for realization of its full potential.

    Book/library does not mean by what format its content is presented or stored. The key here is the maximum and closer to its readers.