Future of libraries…some thoughts

After our discussion at the Future of Libraries panel(see previous post) last week, and some general discussions around the blogosphere, it is clear there is profession-wide self-examination going on about libraries and our services and our customers.

In his post, “Who are Your Competitors” David Lee King ponders this subject, asking “What are you doing to compete for your patrons’ attention?”

King is a public librarian, but many of the same questions apply to us in school libraries, as evidenced from the conversation last week.  He offers some powerful suggestions such as growing your community, rearranging your “stuff” so that it is easier to find, etc.

That idea of really serving your community or meeting them where they live reminded me of a recent article in the Denver Post about the Adams County libraries giving up the Dewey Decimal system for a more bookstore based shelving system. ( In our newly designed library, we didn’t give up Dewey but we gave up Dewey signage in exchange for bookstore based signage.)  Their choice was based on the needs of their patrons, comments director Pam Sandlian Smith.   “For years, we’ve had focus groups and people consistently tell us, ‘I cannot, for the life of me, figure out how this library works,’ ” Sandlian Smith said. “So we decided to turn things upside down, and so far it seems to work well.”

King similarly writes about the influence of/competition from bookstores to our services, and challenges us to learn from them. I also wonder what bookstores are learning from libraries? I saw evidence of one thing yesterday when I was at Borders and ran across flyers for kids for their summer reading program, encouraging kids to read eight books in exchange for some savings on a purchase. And just marveled again at how sometimes bookstores are doing what we do better than we do it, or because our consumer base is more commercially oriented than it once was, they are attracting the patrons/customers that we once did. And they have the added ambiance of music and coffee 😉
Which really aren’t hard things to bring into our libraries, either.

But then again, when I walk into the public library near my home, it’s as busy if not busier than the bookstore is. And certainly in terms of storytime and reading programs, they are swamped. And our school libraries seem far more involved with engaging patrons via technology than the bookstore which frequently barely has a few working computers. For example, a bookstore could be running book trailer videos on their computers, inviting patrons to review books or post things in the store or create a quick book review video or podcast in the store for other customers to watch–making it a much more interactive experience, which is one thing both school and public libraries excel at.  So we both have things to learn from one another.

King does ask many valuable questions that translate into school library questions.

How do we make things more digitally accessible? How do we reach out to our patrons/staff when they have laptops or computers in every room? How do we build a community either in person or through our websites or emails or whatever method works? How do we make our physical space community oriented? How do we involve teachers more, because that involves our students more by default? What services are wanted? (at our campus, one of our more popular services is having a set of textbooks that students can “borrow” during lunches to use in the library–it can be low tech, too!)   How are we incorporating student interests/habits into our space?  Do we allow access to sites that are their bread and butter?  How do we engage them?

So, what are you doing to compete for your patrons’ attention?

2 thoughts on “Future of libraries…some thoughts

  1. I am downloading your discussion now to watch. I think this is a very interesting topic right now. My question is how will bookstores stay open in the digital age. I used to work for Barnes & Noble Booksellers years ago and they build them with so much space for books. But I know they are not making profits anymore because of heavy competition with online book services. Some stores are even getting rid of the CD/DVD areas in the back of their stores because of competition with online media resellers.

    I think the future of bookstores will involve the closing of these mega-stores because they won’t need as much space. If closing the media store is in the near future, then that space can be used for what? And if magazines/newspapers keep going out of business, what happens to that space?

    If school libraries are modeling bookstores, are they planning for the eventual shift of digital bookstores? Less space? Less need to visit a bookstore or library if the resources are available online?

    How are schools and districts preparing for this shift? I’m not saying we don’t need libraries. FAR from it. I’m saying that the future looks like the library space and the bookstore space may be a smaller space. And that space needs to be another competitor with the media drawing our kids away from reading literacies.

  2. Early thoughts….
    ” the public library [is] as busy …. than the bookstore is.” I see the same thing and wonder why the publishing companies & newspapers seem to be in such trouble?

    Also – I don’t think the vendors, automation companies, & whoever is the Marc god or goddess is providing what we need to draw our customers in. But I appear to be a voice crying in the wilderness on this topic.


    I’d love to know how to start a revolution here. Our catalogs have stagnated. Many of us are filling the gap by creating books blogs with trailers etc. – but at least some of this promotional material could be automatically generated according to the Amazon “people who liked this book” etc. etc. And Marc records limited to a controlled vocabulary of subject headings…..sigh…. The point is to get books into kids hands – not teach them how to think like a librarian!!

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