Consider yourself warned, folks- the library as you know it is predicted to go extinct by 2019, according to ‘Future Files’ from Richard Watson. Academic and public libraries alike are facing numerous challenges that are forcing closings, and thanks to those obstacles, libraries are having a harder time than ever staying open and well-funded.
While funded by universities and endowments, academic libraries have a hard time being financially sustainable, thanks in part to the cost of maintaining subscriptions to serial publications, like academic journals (which can take up to 30% of an academic research libraries total budget, according to a 2009 study). On the same note, students are using other methods of searching when beginning research projects; 83% of students said they begin research projects by using an internet-based search engine, while less than 1% start by consulting their library’s website.
The physical space of an academic library is also becoming an issue. While a majority of a library’s brick-and-mortar space is devoted to physical volumes, on average, half of the physical library materials never circulate. And as physical books and journals become less-used by students, librarians’ training has become outdated. Many current librarians are inadequately trained in the use of new electronic resources, creating a barrier to integrating e-books and other electronic resources into academic libraries.
Public libraries, meanwhile, are facing major funding cuts (in 2011-2012, 23 states reported cutting funding to public libraries); at the same time, the public library is often the only free internet access provider in a community, and 65% of public libraries report an inadequate number of computers. Even when there’s sufficient funding available, there tends to be a large gap between the digital resources of urban and rural public libraries, with dramatic differences in internet speed, mobile optimized websites, e-book rentals, and technology classes offered.
While e-books are a cheap option for individuals look to purchase a book, libraries purchase them differently and at different costs. Thanks to the rising demand for e-books and the increasing implementation of e-book rental programs at public libraries, the cost of an e-book can rise astronomically, to as much as $78 per copy, as one Cleveland library spent to acquire Fifty Shades of Grey (300 e-book copies cost a total of $23,400).
And in the future, libraries are projected to face even more difficulties. For example, the demographics of the U.S. are quickly changing, so much so that whites are expected to soon be a minority. Libraries will have to adapt to make their services appealing to people who may not speak English as their first language. Also, more than 40% of current librarians are in their 50s, and a mass retirement is projected to occur around 2015.
Despite these challenges, academic and public librarians are not going gently into that good night, and they’re taking steps to “future-proof” their libraries.
In the past, solutions have focused on things like converting academic libraries to “Information Commons,” building an active social media presence increasing the availability of librarians, and community activism. Going forward, university libraries will likely focus on providing open access to periodicals and journals to help curb costs, while community libraries will begin offering programs in languages other than English. The ALA is also encouraging diversity in its MLIS programs by offering scholarships and other incentives to those studying to become a librarian.
The role of a librarian and library employees is also expected to change. Libraries will shift from becoming centered around books to being centered around technology that will be used by an increasingly diverse population. Current librarians will need to stay up-to-date with professional development and new practices, while future librarians’ training will focus on language and technology.
The future of libraries may seem grim; however, librarians are dedicated to adapting with the times to stay in tune with what community members want from their libraries, whether it’s the latest best-seller in e-book form or a place to check Facebook and put off writing that final paper.