I was at a conference last month and during a roundtable discussion one of the participants related that his dentist asked him about the future of libraries. The dentist wanted to know if there would be a library at all when his daughter went to college. People wonder if libraries will still be around in 10 or 20 years.
I can’t say I know what the future will be, but I did have an answer to his question. My periodontist’s office burned to the ground in a fire and they were without a home for several months. Finally they were able to set up temporary offices a few miles away. When I went to the new spot it was very different from other dentist offices I had visited. They had a really pleasant waiting room and when I got into the examination room they had massive LCD screens with my information and x-rays all ready to go. They had some really relaxing (non-elevator) music playing. When I sat in the chair I noticed something different there too. They hygienist told me that the chair was softly massaging my back and she could turn it off if it bothered me. It blew me away.
They had changed the experience of going to the dentist from one of annoyance and discomfort (and sometimes even fear) into something pleasant and comfortable. By paying attention to the experience they were able to overcome my expectations and even surprise and delight me.
My answer to the question about what is the future of libraries was that similar to my new dentist’s office libraries evolve and adapt and improve. The best libraries are the ones that are most aware of and responsive to their community and it’s needs. Those are the libraries are doing amazing things. Libraries will not be the same in 10 or 20 years. If they didn’t change and weren’t responsive they wouldn’t last long.
Dentists are not going to run out of business anytime soon as they are in the mouth business and there are no lack of mouths. They do need to grow, improve, and make use of the latest technology though, to stay competitive. Libraries on the other hand are in the curiosity business. I don’t see human curiosity and desire to learn going away anytime soon. The way people learn is changing, but by paying attention to the experience of users and being responsive to their needs, libraries will be around for a long time.