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Libraries in the 22nd Century

Much of the reporting on the future of libraries discusses the rise of digital content, shrinking budgets, and the need for librarians to expand their roles, especially in the research process. Indeed, we have seen all of these scenarios unfolding for the past 20 years. Libraries developed makerspaces, embedded librarians, collaborative spaces, access to digital collections, but what’s coming for the library for the next century?

Libraries in the 22nd Century Crystal Ball

Although many items are available digitally, they are usually out of copyright, meaning pre-1923, or in some form of open access. Whilst newspaper articles, current research, books, and other proprietary resources are not freely available. The push to make some materials open access has helped to expand access to proprietary resources. But, as librarians, we need to provide universal access to information.

Funding for libraries is continually being challenged as access to information seems to be getting easier. What is not obvious is that libraries pay a substantial amount of monies to access this content, while costs are rising. The ubiquitousness of the Internet seems to make access to information easier, but the cost of this information is growing. These costs are well hidden from the user. Access to content of value necessitates a high cost: think New York Times, Journal of the American Medical Association, or Wall Street Journal.

For this reason, digital content and funding have pushed libraries and librarians into different roles.

Embedding librarians within research units or as part of other team activities is essential to evidence-based practice. This frees up researchers and investigators to focus on core tasks while the librarian provides access to key information. What has been lost over the past 10 years is the librarian’s ability to maintain control of the profession. The physical archive is the last standing place for traditional library services. Even though many libraries are digitizing their holdings, these items still need to have a space to live. Not all printed materials are being thrown away.

What I am proposing for library advancement into the 22nd Century is a radicalization of the way business is done by collaborating within and between institutions, unless of course a new Andrew Carnegie emerges to fund and endow over 2,500 libraries worldwide.

As discussed the two main drivers for the directions libraries are taking are space and cost.

Discussions of digital access taking away from the physical library have been going on since the late 1990s. Since then we’ve seen libraries and librarians transitioning from collections of physical books to collaborative space junkies. In the past 30 years little has changed. Today, we still hear about innovative collaborative spaces, maker spaces, and quiet spaces.  But is this really the best use of library resources?

A great deal of library literature touches upon the prohibitive cost of access to information. Of course, the existing paradigm is that everything is free on the internet.  But that is just not true.  A lot of important scientific, legal and research information hides behind paywalls. Few people realize that every library, no matter how small, pays a substantial amount of money for access to electronic resources and print materials. Even then, every library has different levels of access to the same information or no access at all for some information.



It is no surprise that libraries are seen as a place for people to gather to create new knowledge. This will be a key driver for the next century. Today many public libraries collaborate with community centers to offer much needed services or hire a social work professional. Corporate libraries have taken a huge hit in the past 10 years and will probably continue to diminish due to changing corporate priorities and budget cuts.

I believe that, in the future, libraries will have to work collaboratively or through a consortium. In this way, as space for housing resources becomes an issue for all types of libraries, a large consortium can be developed to provide kiosk access to all available online information, sometimes at a cost and large print libraries from which everyone can borrow. The sharing of resources will be essential to reduction of space. Simply put, there will be less physical standalone libraries. It will be up to library associations to bring together disparate parties to consolidate information resources and harness the power to dictate their own futures.

All the major U.S. and International library organizations and affiliates must work together to leverage their power to guarantee that there is a library in every state building, university center or corporate entity with universal access to all the world’s information. Under this umbrella, libraries will share resources and costs. But more importantly they will be an authoritative force in the community.



While space for library collections is dwindling so too are the budgets allocated to the development of a collection. Every library has limited access to the wealth and breadth of information that is available. For instance, a law library traditionally only has access to legal information. When they need medical information concerning a malpractice case they need to find these resources elsewhere. My former workplace, a small medical library open to the public in New York, has corporate accounts for lawyers who pay a subscription fee to access this medical information they couldn’t get elsewhere, not even in a public library.

Information is not FREE! In order to make libraries affordable they will need to be incorporated into existing structures or businesses. The library’s main asset is the librarian. This person does not have to reside in a traditional library space. I envision one giant law library handling the acquisition of information and dispersing it through smaller branches to meet the demands of lawyers across continents and state lines. This goes back to the idea of a kiosk, which is controlled by professional librarians and provides access to all types of information. These kiosks would be portals into the “real” world of information, providing access to the entire world’s information, not a limited subset. The only way to get a handle on the prohibitive costs of information is if all library organizations band together to make a deal with publishing companies.

It is my belief that publishing companies are the real roadblocks to library growth. Many people do not realize the rising costs of already expensive information. One library does not have the same access to information as another library. Resources are limited and collections are controlled by what the specific library can afford. One resource alone may cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and only a few libraries will have access. This is unacceptable. Every library has different access to information, but all libraries should have the same access to all information, whether you are a lawyer, medical professional, student, or citizen. In a groundbreaking case, Switzerland made a deal this year with five publishers to provide free access to information for its citizens. This should be a model for all countries.

Space and cost are the drivers for libraries in the future. The time is ripe for librarians, from across the globe, to band together and make some real progress in steering the course of the profession. Libraries will remain a vital part of the community, whether private or public, because of the services they provide, such as access to information and vetting of authoritative sources. Additionally, if libraries are embedded within other institutions, provide comprehensive access, and banded together for equitable access to all information, not just a slice that is affordable, everyone would have the same access to information.

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Future of libraries reading list:


American Library Association. The state of America’s libraries 2017: a report from the American Library Association. Kathy S. Rosa, ed. 2016. Retrieved from:
American Association of Law Libraries. Future of law libraries in the digital age – scenarios. (2001). Chicago: American Association of Law Libraries. Retrieved from:
Andy Tattersall. Following the success of the learning technologist, is it time for a research equivalent? (2017). London School of Economics. Retrieved from:
Christine Wolff. Ithaka S+R US library survey 2016. (2017). New York: Ithaka. Retrieved from:
Council on Library and Information Resources. No brief candle: reconceiving research libraries for the 21st century. (2008). Washington, DC: Council on Library and Information Resources. Retrieved from:
FAS Communications. Nothing common about it. (2017). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Retrieved from:
Hernon P, Matthews J. Reflecting on the future of academic and public libraries [e-book]. Chicago: ALA Editions; 2013. Available at: eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), Ipswich, MA. Accessed May 11, 2017.
Jenny Peachey. Shining a light: the future of public libraries across the UK and Ireland. (2017). United Kingdom: Carnegie UK Trust. Retrieved from:
Knight Foundation. Developing Clarity: Innovating in Library Systems. (2017). Miami, FL: John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Retrieved from:
Marcela Cabello and Butler, Stuart M. How public libraries help build healthy communities. (2017). Washington, DC: Brookings Institution. Retrieved from:
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Institute-wide task force on the future of libraries—preliminary report. (2016). Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Retrieved from:
Nationwide online access to scientific literature. (2017). Switzerland. École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne
Samantha Adams Becker, Cummins, M., Davis, A., Freeman, A., Giesinger Hall, C., Ananthanarayanan, V., Langley, K., and Wolfson, N. (2017). NMC Horizon Report: 2017 library edition. Austin, Texas:
The New Media Consortium. Retrieved from:
Tim Redmond. Tomorrow’s library. (2017). Craftsmanship Quarterly. Retrieved from:
Walt Crawford, Gorman, M. Future libraries: dreams, madness, & reality. (1995). Chicago: American Library Association
Webster Keith. Building the library of the future. (2017). Research Information. 89: Cambridge, UK: Europa Science Ltd. Retrieved from: 

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