In this essay we will be focusing on the future of libraries, as well as the purpose of identifying and justifying why the use of libraries have or have not been on the decline since the ascension of modern technology in society. Pam Sandlian Smith states in her TEDxMileHigh talk that “some people have questioned the relevance of libraries today” and continues to point out that “they are adapting to meet their community’s needs”, which means that they have evolved from their original purpose and are now flexible venues dedicated to serving the community. This idea will be challenged to help conclude if libraries are on the decline, and aim to determine if the evolution of libraries is true or false.
During the formation of this final essay, I employed numerous approaches towards my quest for factual and unbiased information. The main method that I used was researching through databases, in particular Academic Search Premier and Business Source Complete, other search tools were Google Scholar and the UniSA Library Catalogue. I had the most success by using the databases, although initially I had problems with finding credible information, the quality of information was of a higher concentration and its credibility was closer to a university standard than what was available from Google Scholar and the UniSA Library Catalogue searches. Initially, I utilized the search terms “library future” to just see what would pop-up; unfortunately there were not many results that could be used. I refined my search terms to “future AND libraries”, using Boolean operators, and did not have much success, then changed them to “libraries AND decline” and the flow of information seemed to snowball from there. Some other ways that I was able to find relevant information was by modifying my search terms again, still using Boolean operators, to “libraries AND relevance” and by using TEDxTalks about libraries. The final method I used which found little success towards the end of the composing of this essay.
Bourke (2007) states that not only have libraries just survived through the ascension of modern technology, but they have in fact thrived as the users and staff have surveyed their communities and found a need to funnel funds into them in order to meet the demands that they hold. Libraries have recently been going above and beyond and expanding the reach of their resources to online and distant students, the potential for success in this is high if the libraries and universities have a solid plan in place (Buchanan 2000). Libraries have also been successful in creating a drive for the customers to come in and have a flow of patrons; they have found a need to go above their budgets in order to target community concerns more specifically. With these changes, libraries have also seen a transformation from there being an extra emphasis on being a silent book borrowing and research based location, to a community hub where the emphasis is on the gathering of people. Libraries are indispensable as the role of repositories of information has been moved to become facilitators of resources for the community. These resources include the essentials: books, magazines, DVDs and videos, as well as computers and internet.
Herring (2014) writes that in the United States, when public libraries nationwide are not having their funding or their hours cut, they are closing their doors due to insufficient funding. This is not true, Lent (2015) goes on to correct him by stating that The Institute of Museum and Library Services (2009) have reported that the number of public libraries has instead increased over the last 10 years. This idea of libraries suffering and are on the decline in popularity is entirely false, although it is true that people have been questioning the relevance and need for libraries now that we have technology to research from home. Overall the services, size of library collections and revenue sources has been on the constant increase as of 2009. This is largely due to funding increases after U.S. library funds were cut by 5-15% in 2007 during the global financial crisis, until 2009 Bourke (2007). In Australia, library funding in NSW also suffered a 7% funding decrease despite 75% of the funding coming from the local government. The reason there has been such a change in the past 10 years is due to people realising that these libraries are important, and are more than just a repository of information. It is likely that, because of this, libraries in the future will continue to be just as important as they are now and have been in the past.
Laurinda Thomas explains in her TEDxWellington talk that libraries are essential because the chances of finding biased information there are a lot lower than what it would be if you used the internet to find information. Secondly, if you have no researching resources, a few include: books, magazines, DVDs, a computer and the internet, you are essentially silenced; you have no voice. Thirdly, the library can help you gain a voice and give you the tools so you can educate yourself, or seek out people in the library that can help you educate yourself. Furthermore, libraries can help you apply for jobs so you can gain resources like a computer and internet for yourself, through the technology there, or apply for a position in the library. She then goes on to discuss that in many cases they are places of opportunity as talking to patrons or staff there can help an individual avoid social isolation and overcome social awkwardness or even become part of a group there. They can also help you learn about yourself by what your interests are through literacy. Most importantly, libraries are the most important to Baby Boomers and Generation X as they grew up using and relying heavily on libraries for research, as the disappearance of libraries would hurt them the most as they may not be as adjusted to using the internet to research as what Generation Y and millennials would be, as well as how making change from libraries to online researching would be a very difficult change. Finally, in times of war they are the first things to be burnt down, similarly, they are also one of the first places people think of for a place of salvation for the public; as Pam Sandlian Smith explains in her talk, after natural disasters like with Hurricane Sandy occur, as they are a place of familiarity and comfort.
My research on libraries has helped me answer my question about the future of libraries around the world. I have concluded that the future of libraries is looking prosperous, as long as a sufficient amount of funds go into them in order to keep their resources updated and at a high enough quality. Upon researching about libraries, I came up with a few areas that I wanted to focus on, specifically if it is true that libraries are on the decline and why that is. Through this and searching with Boolean operators for “library AND relevance”, “library AND decline” and “future AND libraries” I found many journal articles that were of some use after trying out simple searches like “library future” and “future of libraries” to see what would pop-up. Unfortunately, these results were not helpful to what I was researching, as a lot of the results were off topic. The searches with Boolean operators yielded stronger arguments and a higher quality of information as they consisted of credible and unbiased information which were looking to disprove any myths that those journal articles were discussing about libraries. By watching TEDx Talks I was able to discover information presented by librarians, as well as their side of the narrative about how libraries are supposedly becoming unpopular and that their relevance in today’s society are being questioned. Furthermore, after this essay I would like to see an awareness of the importance of libraries in society and what they represent, what is possible in them, why they need to stay around for many years to come through this technology age, and who they are important too and why that is.
In conclusion, libraries all over the world have been questioned for their relevance and if there is still a need for them. In this final essay, we found that there is still a need for libraries because they provide resources to those who may be without the essential resources needed to research effectively, and give a voice to the voiceless. Libraries have been accommodating online and distant learning, as well as helping people overcome social anxiety, learning more about themselves and making friends. During 2007, there were many libraries around Australia and the United States that suffered funding cuts due to the global financial crisis. Since then, libraries have not only been just surviving, but are thriving through this age of technology, as they have been transformed to places of gathering and comfort, from the typical silent book borrowing and researching emphasised locations. It is likely that libraries will also continue being as important as they are and have been.
Bourke, C 2007, ‘PUBLIC LIBRARIES: PARTNERSHIPS, FUNDING AND RELEVANCE’, Aplis, Volume 20, 3rd Edition, pp. 135-139.
Buchanan, E.A., 2000. Going the extra mile: Serving distance education students. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 3rd Edition.
Herring, M-Y 2014, Are Libraries Obsolete?: An Argument for Relevance in the Digital Age, McFarland, pp. 216.
Lent, A 2015, ‘Mark Y. Herring: Are Libraries Obsolete? An Argument for Relevance in the Digital Age’, Publishing Research Quarterly, Volume 31, 3rd Edition, pp. 230-231.
Miller, K et al. 2011, Public Libraries Survey: Fiscal Year 2009 (IMLS-2011–PLS-02), Institute of Museum and Library Services, Washington, DC, pp. 4-5.
TEDx Talks 2016, The Dangerous Myth About Libraries | Laurinda Thomas | TEDxWellington, video, YouTube, 5 April, viewed 12 October 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sdQwrhxw8LM.
TEDx Talks 2013, What to expect from libraries in the 21st century: Pam Sandlian Smith at TEDxMileHigh, video, YouTube, 16 December, viewed 13 October 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fa6ERdxyYdo.
[Originally written 11/11/2016, published 15/03/2017.]