Libraries for the future

I spent most of my youth and childhood hanging about in public libraries and reading their books. In fact I blame libraries for most of my quirks these days, since it was there that I was exposed to dangerous ideas from philosophers, historians and fiction authors. The local, school and state libraries provided a welcome haven away from my rowdy siblings at home and the somewhat unpleasant school bullies of my youth.

Last week I was lucky enough to join a distinguished panel at the State Library of NSW to discuss the future of libraries. The event was the Futures Forum 2010 (PDF of media release available here).

The panel and assembled librarians were considering the possible futures for libraries in NSW – looking at these via the The bookends scenarios : the future of the Public Library Network in NSW in 2030 (PDF copy of the scenarios available here).

The booksellers on our panel were very worried about the impact of e-books and readers such as Kindle or iPad on their existing business of selling physical books.

This concern is no surprise with the rapid shift of consumption towards virtual rather than physical media for both books and audio. It seems very clunky to buy a CD for music now when I can just download the music I want to my mobile phone. It’s not hard to imagine the same scenario for books once equivalent reading devices are more widely available.

Another feature of the shift to virtual goods instead of books is the growth of recommendation engines and the ability to share our enthusiasms widely and immediately via social networks.

Thus if I love a new book, article or song it is easy to share it was all my contacts via Facebook or Twitter with a click or two. And interested parties can acquire it almost immediately based upon my recommendation. Thus the role of the mediators (like booksellers) is being replaced by the broader community of my social connections.

The growing hyper-connectedness facilitated by the internet and our connected devices make sharing of media a communal thing. In the same way that we pass physical books and CDs around amongst our circles we are sharing our passion and interests for virtual media.

Libraries are either going to adapt or go the way of the dinosaur. Judging by the level of thinking, debate and discussion I saw last week, my money is on adaptation.

Of the future scenarios considered, the one I see as most probable is that libraries become shared community spaces providing a hub for local activities and collaboration.

Have you been to your local library lately? Why not get along and check it out?

6 thoughts on “Libraries for the future

  1. Thanks for your post – I’m very interested in looking at the scenarios you posted.

    Reflecting on public libraries’ role in the community, I remember my HSC maths study group met at the local library instead of the school library. Although I don’t recall ever using any of the libraries’ specific resources on our topic, we certainly made use of the space, and I think mainly that was because it was not-school ie , another community space to foster our learning.


  2. I have a local library that’s about 5 miles from my home. It’s pretty convenient, but you get the feeling that the people there have been librarians a loooong time. They’re not unpleasant, just – well, a little stuffy. Combined with the limited selection (I would be most of their books are over 15 years old), its not captivating. But what I do like is that if I find a book on the net, odds are that they can get it for me from another library. Just in our state, though – no interstate loans! I get the feeling that they’re thinking this is a Brave New World, which feels a bit quaint to me.

    Can’t remember the last time I asked a librarian for help!


  3. Go to our website and see our video of what the Library should look like in 2020:

    We have to make it happen if we are to survive as a vital communities. Librarians have the education and training to become the Meta-word Internet information experts. They should be the connectors to entrepreneurs and business startups for their market needs. We need to enable a social entrepreneur plan that crates a National Library Hub system, and use an existing Library infrastructure for mentoring entrepreneurs, and is a catalysts for cleantech jobs.


  4. Hi Kate,

    I love this blog post as I’ve always loved the rich wisdom of a library full of inspiring books! Although eReaders and netbooks are quite handy to read ebooks, nothing beats a genuine book!

    One of my biggest dreams is to create my own library with books focused on inspiring and supporting fellow leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs.
    Two years ago I started buying and collection all the books and later this year I hope to open the library as part of our new Seed Accelerator Campus in Sydney!

    And by the way; an Aussie (Perth based) business is one of the leaders in the global eBook business:




    1. How wonderful! Patrick your ideas always inspire & energise me – please let me know if there is any help I can offer. I do have some business and leadership books that might find a good home in your library.


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