Future of Public Libraries in the Digital Age

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With the inclusion of technology as being routine in everyday life, it has now crept into the domain of the stewards for informational resources and cultural artifacts in society, i.e., the library. The ubiquitous nature of technology creates an interesting challenge for public libraries resulting in the need to address questions such as: What does the future of public libraries look like entering the digital age? What tools are at the disposal of librarians? What can libraries do to remain relevant in their communities in the digital age?

The progression to the library of the future or as Harmeyer coined, the Library of 2030, is the shift from library-centric to user-centric as a Participatory Library where libraries enable connection and creation with the users. This is where libraries as Bonfield states: “engage and benefit from communal acquisition, organization, dissemination, preservation, and production of social goods and information… in person… also privately, confidentially, and with intellectual freedom intact.”

Libraries are facing multi-faceted challenges: continuous technological advances; increasing competition; concerns of digital preservation; relevancy to the broadest spectrum of library patrons (from the Digital Fugitives to the Digital Immigrants to the Digital Natives[1]) – demographic transformation and social trends; the legal issues including the intellectual property protection of a multimedia digital library and data encryption; and, and financial constraints.

By the facilitation of access to technologies necessary to make recordings, share and preserve stories, libraries are able to empower the communities they serve and actively preserve their communities’ histories. Through storytelling, libraries are able to leverage expertise in effective communication with their patrons while enhancing patron literacy. As audio storytelling is the most prevalent mode of storytelling, libraries are increasingly developing multimedia labs or studios (including sound booths). These spaces not only provide a centralized resource hub to dedicated spaces, software, and recording equipment, but can be leveraged to promote a reason to capture an oral story. Created stories then need to be distributed and preserved with the libraries best poised to assist patrons from being creators to curators.

The future of public libraries results in the conclusion that the stereotypical public library is no longer. The current and future libraries will be, as Morris states in the keynote address at the fifth international conference on libraries, information and society: “serving individuals or communities; providing physical or virtual services; providing collections or advocating creation of information; owning or providing access to materials held elsewhere.”

Despite libraries facing challenging times ahead, they have exciting opportunities to design and re-shape by leveraging technology to make libraries as relevant in the present has they were envisioned in the past.

[1] A Digital Fugitive is not a digital immigrant but is part of the Great / Silent Generation (66 and over). A Digital Immigrant did not grow up with digital technology but has learned to use and integrate it into their lives (Gen X and Baby Boomers). A Digital Native grew up with digital technology and is dependent on it as an integral part of their lives (Millennials/Gen Y and Gen Z).


Works Cited:

Bonfield, Brett. “Resdesigning Library Services Again: Revisiting Buckland’s Manifesto.” In Planning our Future Libraries: Blueprints for 2030., edited by Kim Leeder and Eric Frierson. Chicago: American Library Association. 2013.

Buckland, Michael K. 1992.  Redesigning Library Services: A Manifesto.  Chicago: American Library Association

Harmeyer, Dave. “Radical Trust: A User-Librarian Shared Model.” In Planning our Future Libraries: Blueprints for 2030., edited by Kim Leeder and Eric Frierson. Chicago: American Library Association. 2013.

Fernandez, P. 2015. “Through the looking glass: envisioning new library technologies” telling stories with technology, Library Hi Tech News. 32 (9): 4-7.

Morris, A. 2014. “Public libraries – challenges and opportunities for the future [Keynote address] Noorhidawati, A. et al (eds). Library: Our Story, Our Time, Our Future: Proceedings of the International 5th Conference on Libraries, Information and Society, ICoLIS 2014: 9-20.

Walker, Cecily. “What are Public Libraries doing in the Digital Age to Engage their Communities?” interview by Nancy Kwong, March 1, 2018.


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