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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

Predicting the future of libraries

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, November 6, 2011

I was standing at the checkout desk of the Columbus Metropolitan Library in 1978; part of a tour group that was watching the first computerized circulation system in Ohio.


The computer recorded the book, the person borrowing it, and the librarian then used a rubber stamp and ink pad to mark the date due on the card.


I thought to myself, “Wow, this will never work!”


In 1990, I was linked to the State Library of Ohio’s “gopher” of information, and told that this was the future of information transmission.


It appeared to be a glorified typewriter, with pages of text spinning onto the computer screen which had multi-colored text to help separate the information.


I thought to myself, “Wow, this will never work!”


In 2001, I saw a little device, yet unnamed, that would allow a person to read a book on a tiny little screen that was hard to see.


The people demonstrating it were excited, and said this was the future of reading.


I thought to myself, “Wow, this will never work!”


I have given up on predicting the future, and no one has ever told me that I am a futurist.  I cannot see beyond what is in front of me to see what could and might be part of our lives.


At the recent annual meeting of the Ohio Library Council, one of the keynote speakers was Thomas Frey, executive director and “senior futurist” for the DaVinci Institute in Colorado.


He is renowned for being someone able to think and see beyond the current situation, and provide us with a “peek” into our future.


Thomas Frey is a popular speaker for library conferences because he states that “Libraries are here to stay.”


He states, “Libraries have been around in various forms for nearly 4,000 years and have become the cornerstone of activities in communities where they exist.”


He says that the role and function of public libraries will change, but the library itself will remain as an important part of our communities.


The rapid rise of eBooks is making libraries more important than ever as a resource for information, as various eBook readers appear on the market at a low cost.


The paper book will remain for some time, and will combine with a library’s function as a database for eBooks.


Mr. Frey suggests that libraries may become “Electronic Outposts” with branches established as only “download facilities” for eBooks and data stored in the information cloud of the future.


I see big changes taking place within our own library system.  June 2012 is the projected upgrade date for our automation system as we move to a new format that is more user friendly, and adaptable to the “smart phones” in use today.


We are part of an eBook cooperative and are purchasing new and additional eBooks as quickly as possible to meet the growing demand.


eBooks have certainly added a new dimension to library collections.  I am watching as some eBooks are inexpensively priced, yet others can be $ 40 and more.  Some eBooks are sold with a maximum usage factor, and others are restricted in other ways.


Publishers love eBooks as they are never discounted due to oversupply.  There is always one copy from which added copies are sold as opposed to paper books which can clog a warehouse with unsold copies.


Mr. Frey concludes with his feeling that “libraries are really a life form, they exist as a human system, and tend to make on the same attributes as other life forms.”