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The Future of The Library

Posted by Emilia Piskorski


My face went pale and my palms got sweaty. I was sitting in a first year English seminar and the professor instructed, “In your essay, you are required to source at least 10 different books (non-electronic sources).” I broke out into sheer panic as I scheduled into my calendar: ‘go to the library… an entire 60 minutes.’ For every student who has their phone glued to their hand, their tablet on their forearm, and a list of “better things to do,” going to the library was far from an appealing idea.

For my generation, the traditional library is inefficient – a flaw which will need to improve in the near future, otherwise, the library will become a place only talked about in online history books. Four-walled libraries that house hard copy books and resources might not be around tomorrow.

Students of my generation are apt to go to the library for a quiet place to study, meet with a group, or access an online database to find articles and e-books. Rarely do we travel to the library in advance of checking for required information online. We live in a fast paced world and don’t have the time to flip through hundreds of pages only to find out that the quote we were searching for is in a different book. We have learned computer shortcuts to find exactly what we want, when we want it – and I believe libraries need to cater to this lifestyle.

So what’s the future of the library? Some suggest that we will not be saying goodbye to the iconic, sometimes musty buildings, but rather, we will be welcoming its reinvention.

Here are some ideas on what I think we can expect: 

Books will continue to be replaced with infinite megapixels. We’ll be clicking instead of flipping through the pages of information.

Bookshelves with books about planets will be replaced with the newest technologies that will probably look like they’re from another planet.

Electricity bills will increase (exponentially) because of all the charge stations.

We’ll see more space for group work, as well as more desks available for individual studying (An uncontrollable smile wipes over my face as I begin to the think of the time I’ll save hunting for a seat!)

As for the role of the librarian, I decided to get in touch with a librarian from the university I attend, Laurier University in Waterloo.  I sent an email to somebody who had done a presentation during one of my classes and truly made a difference in the way I do my academic research. I quickly skimmed through my course notes to find her name and easily found her contact information online. Her name is Anne Kelly and she replied to me in a timely manner, very eager to help me out. After asking her several questions, I was able to get a much clearer understanding about what the role of a 21st century librarian entails and how she expects it will change in the future.

Anne’s official title is Reference/Collections Librarian and she’s been working at Laurier since 2005. In order to be in Anne’s position, a minimum of a Master’s in Library Science has to be completed. She explained that some university librarian positions even require a second Master’s degree.

Because she is a librarian at the university, her role is not confined to the walls of the library. Her responsibilities include buying different materials for the subject areas that she works for, creating webpages for different classes, completing instruction for classes, serving on various committees, helping her faculty with their classes and publications, and assisting students find research materials. Students are able to make one-on-one appointments with Anne to learn and discuss how to appropriately research a topic. Her role truly requires patience, diligence, and a truly open-mind.

When asked how her role has changed with the rise of technology, she explained that there haven’t been significant changes as of yet, but that the future holds new things. She described the role of the librarian in previous years as a ‘gate-keeper’ meaning that such a role included helping people attain information.  She explained that although that is still something that librarians are responsible for today, the way the information is accessed will differ. The obvious changes that have affected her role include the efficiency of the internet search and the ability to add ‘user-tags’ to search information. Anne also mentioned the advent of ‘RefWorks’ which is a citation management system that completely changes the way we approach research citations. We are entering an era of efficiency where constant initiative to learn new skills and soft-wares will be required by all.

Based on current trends, Anne also shared her predictions about what she expects to see in the library:

·Mobile library technologies such as text and instant messaging.

·Single sign-on for online users from multiple devices.

·Academic libraries will be increasingly open to librarians who have changed jobs several times.

·Publishing, open access, and copyright will continue to be very important, but librarians will be more involved with assisting faculty through its processes.

·Significant shift towards conglomerate or cooperative purchasing, to the point where universities in Canada band together to arrange for national purchases.

· Librarians will see their role become more of a “faculty advisor”, as assisting students becomes increasingly self-serve, peer-mentorship, and podcast driven.

As a first-year, I was simply overwhelmed and unprepared. It turns out that it’s as simple as asking for help from a librarian about how to use an online database and what the future holds to gain a positive perspective. If you feel frustration when you enter the library, I truly suggest taking a moment to talk to those who work there. Chances are, there’s a lot more to learn about the library than you had in mind. And if they’re as friendly as the librarians at Laurier, you’re in for a treat!

What are your thoughts? Are you interested in adapting to the future of the library?