In the age of the Internet and e-Books, what is the future of libraries and the role of librarians?

This is a question that has been asked over and over again. In everyday life, library professionals, paraprofessionals, and aspiring students are plagued by the–somewhat naive–statement “well, with technology, libraries won’t be necessary in the future,” or some variant of the like.

This question also has been discussed at length within the library community, including by the iSchool’s very own R. David Lankes, who evokes a call -to-action in his book The Atlas of New Librarianship. There is even an annual, virtual conference (Library 2.0) dedicated to the subject of the future of libraries!

Libraries at the Crossroads

The Pew Research Center (@pewresearch) recently published a study called Libraries at the Crossroads.  This publication was written based on nationwide telephone (both cellular and landline) interviews conducted by the Princeton Survey Research Associates International (@princetonsurvey) of 2,006 people ages 16+.  Further discussion of the methodology used to conduct this study can be found here.

Findings from the Pew Research Center's Library at the Crossroads study

Chart of findings from the Pew Research Center’s Library at the Crossroads study

The Pew Research Organization further breaks down this data in their report, which you can read here.

Libraries at the Crossroads brings assessment of services and community interest into the discussion of public library worth. Librarians can then use this assessment to further promote the need for their services and for funding. After reading the report, I decided to ask some of our faculty at Syracuse about how community assessment relates to their work and what they think it (and the publication Libraries at the Crossroads) reflects about the future of the profession.

Here are their responses:

David Lankes iSchool Professor, Syracuse University

Lankes: “I have gone through [Libraries at the Crossroads] and found some very encouraging news. Librarians remain one of the most trusted professions in the country.There is a growing core of the public who see libraries as more than book palaces. They are, for example, increasing in favor of moving books off site to make way for training and community projects. They also see librarian and libraries as resources for technology support and learning of all sorts. There are clearly also some areas to work on. Making libraries present online as an example.”
How can libraries better promote their presence and services?

Lankes: “The answer to your question on promotion to the community and government is pretty clear these days: Do good work out in the community that makes a difference.

The days of waiting for those who need help to come to the library are done. The days of librarians work being only within a library are over. Librarians need to get out to where people live and work more on the aspirations of the community than faults.”

What about corporate libraries?

Jill Hurst-Wahl Associate Professor of Practice and Director, MS in Library and Information Science & MS LIS: School Media

Hurst-Wahl: “Businesses of all sorts have a need to organize and use data. You can think about this from several different vantage points, if you think about business records in particular, you need someone who is focused on managing those records and those record managers may–though not necessarily–be a librarian.  There are additional, specific needs [that may need to be met] because of the federal government might fall under the skills of a librarian.  There also is the problem of data.  You have data, what kind of form is that data in, using the corporate computer system for whatever that data is–you need someone who can look and interpret that data.  In the past it may have been analysts or corporate IT, and it still may be [in certain companies], but there is a growing need for information professionals, specifically librarians.”

How has corporate librarianship changed over the years to better serve their community?

Hurst-Wahl: “Large corporations have a corporate library, sometimes multiple corporate libraries.  They are integrated into the organizations in different ways: maybe more focused on technology, or work with the business department (to answer competitive intelligence questions).  Over the last 20 years, corporate libraries have changed. You think about the ability for a library to serve people who are not in the same location. So you had corporations who once had many corporate libraries that now can serve their community with just a few corporate libraries, instead of one in every facility. You also find that corporate libraries, some have become more embedded in the corporations. Librarians working with researchers. Even though there are fewer facilities and they are more digital, [corporate libraries] are also working with a much greater reach than they used to have.”

What do you think is the future of libraries and librarians?  How can your institution better serve your community or your local library serve you?