Having worked in libraries for the past 30 years, I have seen many trends develop. Technologies have come and gone, but man’s love for the “latest” and the “new and improved” continues. In looking at the future of libraries, I see three trends developing: a desire for the nostalgic feeling triggered by visiting a traditional library, a need more than ever for a community gathering place, and the ability to access library materials anytime and anywhere.
Ask pretty much anyone if they think libraries should vanish, and the answer will be a resounding “No!” Then ask them what comes to mind when they think of libraries, and the vast majority of them will say “Books!” People like to have libraries in their communities. Having a library in one’s community implies a certain quality of life, saying to community members that the community values education, reading, the arts, and the free access to information provided by the library. The library is a place where anyone can go to exercise their mind in the same way they might visit a hiking trail to exercise their body. The average community member may not realize how the library has evolved and what all the services offered in a traditional community library are, but they know that they want a library in their community. I believe this represents a trend for a feeling of nostalgia. This is played out in the marketing world; there is a field of marketing known as nostalgia marketing where “the good old days” are promoted as being something desirable. Even a simple Google search for “nostalgia as a trend” brought back nearly two million hits. Libraries can and should capitalize on this need for nostalgia, promoting the traditional services we provide: professional help with answers to questions, informational programs on a variety of topics, and of course our various collections including Local History, which is nostalgic in itself.
One way that many libraries break from their traditional community roles is that they are no longer places where users are expected to be quiet, never raising their voices above a whisper. The library is now a lively place where patrons can use Internet accessible computers, meet with friends and business associates for discussions, or enjoy experiences such as book discussion groups and children’s story times. Some libraries even offer cafes where patrons can order coffee or a meal. Most libraries still offer quiet spaces for study, but patrons are mostly encouraged to interact, exchange ideas, and learn from each other as well as from books. An example of this trend is in the development of maker spaces in libraries, using everything from craft supplies to Lego robot kits to 3-D printers. Maker spaces allow patrons to use the library as a creative venue; they can interact with staff and other patrons to learn or enhance useful skills.
With the development of home technology options, patrons have become used to accessing information instantly, in a wide variety of media types, and on numerous devices. Savvy librarians are doing their best to keep up with this trend of accessibility. Downloadable collections can be found in most libraries and include all types of eMaterials: books, periodicals, audiobooks, music, and video. Library databases assist patrons with a variety of interests — everything from genealogy to job hunting. Many databases are interactive, and patrons can learn skills such as how to use computers programs such as Excel. Most importantly, these downloadable and database collections are accessible from home and can be accessed by any device (computer, tablet, or phone) with Internet access. Some libraries also offer 24/7 reference service so patrons can get answers to questions from professional librarians without ever having to leave their homes.
These three trends may seem to contradict each other, saying the library is the same old place and is also totally different, and that may even be a trend in and of itself. It is a very human quality to want comfort, the type of comfort that is supplied by the traditional library. It is equally human to desire the last a greatest “thing” which can also be found in libraries with maker spaces and highly accessible collections. Librarians need to find the correct balance between the traditional and the progressive for their particular community.