Posted by: bluesyemre | November 29, 2019

The Future of #Libraries by The Insider

future of libraries

I have more than a casual relationship with libraries, which is why I was thrilled to be working on this issue of The Insider, dedicated to what someone called “a glorious creation in plain sight.” And as much as that is absolutely true, it is sad in a way because it speaks to our tendency to take libraries for granted. The longest career I ever held prior to my 16 years at PressReader was working in a university library, as an assistant in social sciences references. Those four years changed my life. What I discovered there was not only critical to my job at the time, but everything I’ve done going forward. But it wasn’t until my senior year in high school in the mid-nineties that it dawned on me that the library was far more than just a place you went to borrow books from the guardians of resources (librarians). Almost overnight computers started to infiltrate the library; old school and new school started to compete for space. On one side of the library were sticks on racks with newspapers hanging off them and microfiche readers for accessing archives. And on the other side were printers and computers full of research software applications that were poised to change my life forever. It was both disconcerting and edifying at the same time.

I learned everything I could to perform research so I could teach other students how to create the structured queries that would help them unearth the most relevant sources for a paper, study, or thesis. With the abundance of online data even back then and the rudimentary search engines available, it was like searching for a needle in a haystack. Technology made research easier and faster as it opened up a multitude of sources and helped us validate or invalidate them. It also introduced new challenges that had us questioning ourselves. With virtually unlimited resources online, how many should I cite? Have I done all of my critical thinking or should I dig deeper? When is enough, enough? Would professors’ expectations be higher now that we had a wealth of knowledge at our fingertips?

Some felt it was the beginning of the end for the library, but, in fact, it was the dawn of a new Renaissance What value do libraries have for you? To me, they’re truly invaluable. They just need help communicating that value to the masses who think their phones are all they need now. Libraries have all the fundamental building blocks to rewrite their future to serve this new generation of patrons, but unfortunately, self-reinvention isn’t taught in library sciences programs and they are struggling. Some libraries have rewritten themselves and I talk about them in this issue. But many are still hesitant to raze the old to raise the new. As marketing guru and best-selling author, Seth Godin once said, “The hard part isn’t coming up with a new idea. The hard part is falling out of love with the old idea.”

Libraries need to fall out of love with their old ideas, the traditions that have run their course and the tasks that no longer add value (think overdue fines). They need to let go of outdated conventions (no talking, no food) and focus on convenience for its members instead. Libraries need to diversify their services and explore new funding sources that can help sustain them in the face of budget and staff cuts. They need to be less insular and reach out to learn from other industries that have reinvented themselves. And they need to place more value on community than the dust-collecting content that lines their shelves. Reinvention starts in the mind, not on a spreadsheet. It requires new thinking and the ability to imagine the art of the possible. A reinvented library is not an institution or a destination; it’s an experience rich in knowledge and humanity, whose worth is immeasurable. It’s important to remember that history often repeats itself and just as the Renaissance embraced a more individualistic view of a human being, so must libraries put the person at the center of everything they do. Librarians as custodians of the world’s greatest treasures have the power to change the world. And it all starts with an idea. And as world peace advocate and author, Norman Cousins, once said, “A library is the delivery room for the birth of idea.” Sounds like you’re half way there!

Nikolay Malyarov
EVP, Chief Content O­cer
and General Counsel

The Future of Libraries

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