Future Proofing Libraries

LJ asked the Movers and Shakers to weigh in on “future proofing” libraries. One of my favorite responses comes from Char Booth:


Social Capital
The best way to future-proof libraries is not by electronically reimagining our most valuable attributes in a collective attempt to cheat obsolescence. Our insurance is going to come from a much more basic place—we have to turn inward, understand why libraries have been such fabulously lasting cultural institutions, and reflect on how best to transfer this to the modern information climate. 
Libraries represent thoughtfulness, peace, and possibility, and we should strive to keep them as transparent and accessible as possible. The profit imperative increasingly shapes the way that information is organized and accessed, but libraries can thrivesimply because we exist in opposition to this model. A truly national and effective libraries-are-viable-and-valuable advertising campaign that takes on grassroots and major media tactics would be incredibly worthwhile. 
It’s easy to recognize the tone this message might take when you consider the movements that are creating change on a broad scale. The social capital of libraries speaks to the same populist, sustainable spirit that drives the open source, open access, slow food, local, DIY, and green movements, the only difference being that we’ve been at it for millennia. Libraries are the quintessence of the sustainable information movement, and we create community spaces that simultaneously validate the universal human need for the social, the intellectual, and the thrifty. We also have an unbelievable wealth of dedicated staff for whom libraries are symbolic of the greatest good, drawn together in a vocational community of practitioners that could hardly be more enthusiastic or protective of the services we provide. It’s critical that we teach our users that they can believe in libraries like they can believe in any other good cause, because library sustainability is essentially in their hands. It is our responsibility to make sure that they have enough reasons to understand, appreciate, and advocate for us.
Char Booth, ’08

I contributed this:

Future-proofed libraries will be flatter, more transparent institutions, free of hierarchal organization. They will constantly reevaluate space, service, and user engagement. I watch the Darien Library, CT, very closely as a way to see future ideas put into play now: circulation staff blogging and selecting materials, innovations with reference services, and a new building that will inspire the community as well as the library world. I watch the new spaces at libraries like Loyola, McMaster, Georgia Tech, and North Carolina State to see what the idea of the commons means to students and faculty. The librarians and staff creating these spaces realize the future is more about collaboration and space than rows of stacks.
The future-proof library will encourage my heart—to grow, explore, learn, and experience. It will know me and provide information I didn’t even know I needed. I will experience information in new ways, inside the library or wherever the library happens to be: on my “digital lifestream” device, via my home information/entertainment devices, and via the cloud of data that will be available to me wherever I go.
Michael Stephens, ’05