What is the future of libraries?

What is the future of libraries?

By Heidi Reidel

It is widely believed that libraries are dying. They receive less funding each year and branches continue to close. Yet, 76% of Americans say libraries well serve the needs of their community and many have become tourist attractions. So, why the decline? Though many appreciate libraries, their services are not being used and that lack of circulation is what loses books and funds.

Fake Readers to Save Libraries

The East Lake County Library in Florida saw an increase in funding due to an incredibly active reader named Chuck Finley, who appeared to have checked out 2,361 books over a nine month period. After anonymous allegations were made in November, it was discovered that Chuck Finley didn’t exist and his identity was concocted by two library employees in an effort to “save books.” If a book hasn’t been checked out after a certain amount of time, it is disposed of, but these employees claimed that the books would be popular enough to be repurchased in the future. The library also received more funding after the increased circulation.

The deception is somewhat endearing. Digital activist, Cory Doctorow, defended the perpetrators actions, asserting that they did it to make the system better rather than for personal gain. George Dore, the library’s branch supervisor and one of the accused, claimed that other libraries are doing the same thing. This all leads to the question: Is the future of libraries so bleak that such measures are necessary to save them?

The Future of Libraries

Many are forecasting that libraries are not, like bookstores, limping into obsoletion but are in fact evolving to meet changing needs. In 2013, the American Library Association formed the Center for the Future of Libraries in order to maintain the relevancy of libraries. The project focuses on trends and how they can be integrated into programs and services.

Innovative Programs for Youth Education

Some libraries are offering programs to teach today’s youth modern life skills such as technology, career and college readiness, innovation, and entrepreneurship. The San Diego Public Library Central Library opened the IDEA Lab, where teen interns run workshops on topics of interest, including Photoshop, stop-motion animation, and other skill-building technology projects. The Charlotte Mecklenburg Library in North Carolina created Idea Box, a place where youth can learn to 3D model, 3D print, and code. Similar programs directed toward youth education are used at the Seattle Public Library.

Checking Out Realities

Technology is already an integral part of library services, which will expand as new technology is unveiled. David Pescovitz, research director at the Institute for the Future, predicts that in the future, people will be able to download sensory data. Sensors are instrumented everywhere and gathering so much high-resolution data that those experiences could eventually be translated into virtual realities. Rather than checking out books, a patron will be able to check out “experiences” like climbing a mountain or going into space.

A library is a place to read books, a perception has endured despite the metamorphosis libraries have undergone. For many, a library is also a place to access technology they might not otherwise have access to. It has become a place where people can use the internet, print, make copies, watch movies, and more. Hard copy books may be a dying medium but libraries are not. At their core, they are centers for knowledge. As long as libraries can continue to produce innovative ways of sharing knowledge, they can endure.

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