Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Thing #10: Future Trends

Well, no gold stars for me this time, but I think I should be in the top 10 or so :-)

Anyway, it's funny that this is our last assignment, because it's something I have given a lot of thought to recently.  I did read a couple of the other Thing 10 posts, and a few articles recently, and it's really made me wonder what the future holds for libraries - and librarians.  As I mentioned in my first blog article, I have worked in several capacities in the library world, so I think I can look at this question from several perspectives....

First, as an elementary librarian, I still see the need for a solid media center in 2020 - headed by a competent LMS.  There is no getting around the fact that we live in the "information age" - and success down the road for our children can largely be measured by how well they can locate, evaluate, synthesize, and disseminate information - all skills we as librarians teach.  There will be a place for LMS faculty in schools as long as there is a need to organize and access information - and my crystal ball does not see an end to that coming any time too soon!

And like Beth Disque noted in her blog, it is interesting that children's fixation for print books has not diminished as one might have suspected.  I think there will always be something alluring about a beautiful, brightly illustrated picture book, or an enticing series like 39 Clues that uses trading cards as a catch.  Just as kids will always love getting prizes out of cereal boxes, they will also always love getting "extras" out of print books.

But that said, the media center will surely have evolved just a little more by 2020.  In our case, we could use more online databases - and better online databases.  I don't know if I'm alone here, but I'm rather disappointed with the limited scope of some of our databases.  Sometimes we are forced to use the Internet because we just can't find enough information on such topics as sports personalities and other popular culture icons which are not covered very well (or at all).  Furthermore, as we build e-book and other electronic collections, we need to think about whether these will replace print editions, or simply supplement them.  Also, how do we keep a "level playing field" - where all patrons have the same access?  I don't see us as a school being able to provide e-book readers to all the students, but is it fair that some have them and others don't?  Using e-books on a portable device is much more attractive than uploading them to a standard computer.  Anyway, my point is that the media center will probably look different in 10 years - just as it looks very different now than it did in 2000.  Will we need less shelf space for once?  Will we need more dedicated a/v space for multimedia production?

I think the biggest changes, though, are going to occur in the college-level sector.  Already RPI looks far more like a computer lab than a traditional library.  I can see where students will want mostly electronic resources for their research (and leisure).  Electronic resources are constantly updated, easy to search, and remotely available.  There really is very little need for books in that environment.

Finally, the public library sector is the natural bridge between these two strata.  People will always love a good book, but they will also demand updated electronic resources, delivered directly to them.  We're already doing that now, but we'll have to do that more to stay relevant in tomorrow's ever changing culture.  We're going to see the continued evolution of services geared towards at-home use rather than on-site use.  What does this mean for the future of public libraries?  Yikes.  With fewer people physically coming in, will public libraries need less staff?  Fewer open hours?  Dare I say it - Less space?!

It's a great irony to me that in today's world where people are more connected than ever before in history with social networking, etc, they are connecting less and less physically.  I'm sure public libraries will still have young families coming to use the on-site collections and to attend programming (just to get out of the house!), but how about adults?  Will public libraries have an uphill battle getting patrons to come in to use the collection and to attend programming when they have everything they think they need right at home?  If this is the case, then we're losing something VERY important here - and it's not just libraries.

Think about that.