The Future of Libraries: What We Learned at Gaylord Brothers

On Tuesday, December 4, a group of library and information science students went to Gaylord Brothers, a library supply company located in Syracuse, New York.  The students had been invited for an informal conversation on the future of libraries.  

The session was led by Jill Hurst-Wahl, a member of the Board of Directors for the Special Libraries Association (SLA) and professor at Syracuse University School of Information Studies.  Also in attendance were Barbara Stripling, president-elect for the American Library Association (ALA), and Guy Marhewka, President and CEO of Gaylord Brothers. There were 20 people present, with a nearly equal distribution of students and Gaylord staff.

The conversation was directed based upon a strategy Jill had learned at the Squared Conference (Risk and Reward) recently held in Telluride, Colorado.  The strategy involved forming teams with at least one student and one staff representative on each team, and then answering the question: what is the future of libraries?

How We Answered the Question

Larger entities such as Apple, Chuck E. Cheese, and the city of Las Vegas were mentioned to bring a new perspective to the table. The theory behind this strategy was to use a business philosophy for a company to determine the look and feel of a new library.  Chuck E. Cheese, for instance, is focused on providing a unique experience to a specific audience (children) with relatively low product costs or great concern for their non-users (including parents).  

A library built on this structure would determine its central user base and then determine an experience based upon the values of this group.  The point was not that this philosophy should be adopted, but instead, discovering what novel ideas could be determined from examining an issue from a different perspective.  

What We Learned

An interesting outcome was that in many of the models, analog content was seen as being of secondary importance, particularly to the LIS students.  Also, the primary attribute required of the furniture of the future library was that it was mobile and flexible.  Are these two attributes based upon students’ lack of experience within the library world, or instead, a sea change in how we interact with our communities?

I do not have the answer to this question, but I believe conversations between different interested stakeholders, such as LIS students and companies like Gaylord, provide a viewpoint into potential solutions.  

Everyone at the meeting realized that libraries, the services they provide, and the resources needed to provide these services are changing.  By working together we can find solutions that are mutually beneficial, and even more importantly, beneficial to the communities we serve.            

What are your thoughts on the future of libraries? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. 

Matthew Gunby

I am a second year student at the ISchool, working towards my Masters in Library and Information Science. I am specifically focusing on public libraries, but also the interface of the academic community with the broader community. I have a keen interest in understanding how libraries use spaces, both physical and digital, and how this interaction can be curated to better serve the institution(s)'s mission. Finally, I am curious about motivation and how it can impact both users and current non-users. Some of the areas I have approached this in so far have been through game theory, alternate currencies, and the drivers of volunteer services and non-profits.

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