The Future Role of Libraries

If Libraries want to stay relevant they have to redefine their role in communities. The common perception is they have books, lots of books. This is obvious. Over the last decade the perception has grown to include internet access. However, this isn’t enough to survive. If you live in a progressive town like myself, WiFi is ubiquitous. When the Library is competing with Henry’s Coffeehouse, well, I don’t need to tell you who wins.

In the next half decade we’ll most likely have access to any book imaginable through the use of a single device. Whether we like this idea or not it will at some point replace the role of the book. Books have lived a long life when compared to the Music medium. Music has been on a steady pace of evolution from vinyl to eight track to cassette to CD and now digital. Digital seems to be the evolutionary end because it’s intangible. Google is hard at work scanning the Worlds books which are longing for a digital resting place.

Do Libraries become insignificant when digital books reach a tipping point? Not unless they transform their role as repositories of knowledge to places of gathering. Nothing can replace face to face interactions. When we gain knowledge we ultimately seek understanding.

When Open Source infected the programming world it became one of the most significant movements in history. The speed with which we’ve created the Information Age would not have been possible without this movement. If Libraries applied the Open Source philosophy to Education they could usher in the dawn of a new age, The Age of Education. This could rival some of the best Universities. This wouldn’t be a normal teacher/class education. The books would be our teachers. People would roam the halls seeking other people. Understanding would be gained through discussion and debate. Some of us would travel long distances to Libraries famous for their people and discussions.

For centuries Libraries have been entrusted with housing knowledge. That trust is quickly being handed over to the Internet. Libraries now have the opportunity to be handed the trust of understanding.

The preceding was sparked by some plans I saw for a new Library to be built in my town of Lawrence, Kansas. The design feels so open and welcoming with its huge windows and roof top gardens. It has a sense of curiosity with it’s inconsistent fourth floor appearing to look in a different direction than the other floors. It feels like a place I would go to have conversations and seek understanding.