Future of Libraries?

I was talking with a friend the other day about the direction that libraries are taking. Both of us are experiencing the joys and consternation of a new library project in our respective neighborhoods and both of us have noted a significant increase in the emphasis on e-learning. In fact, I don’t actually visit my library to view the stock of books anymore. All I need to do is go to the library’s site online, look for the book I want by anything that comes to mind, and then order the book. I physically go to the library to pick the physical book up later, but I see this as a fading technology designed to make the older among us feel a bit more comfortable. The future, as described by devices such as the Kindle, is electronic.

I had touched on this topic a little in my “Paper or e-Book?” post, but didn’t take the discussion to a logical conclusion at that point. What will happen when the library becomes completely electronic? It could happenprobably not within my lifetime, but definitely within the lifetime of the next generation. It could eventually happen that you’ll receive a device that connects to a worldwide library and delivers only electronic media. There are a number of advantages to this arrangement:

  • A book would be at your disposal 24/7 without much effort on your part at all.
  • There is no limit to the number of people who could view a book.
  • Rare or exotic books could be scanned and made available electronically.
  • Reading would become a do anywhere sort of activity that might actually benefit children who don’t currently read nearly enough.
  • Money would no longer define access to knowledge.

This future world has a few problems, of course. The people who put creative talent into materials of all sorts are already under attack today. Many people feel no need to pay for the materials they usethe information should be free in their minds. Barriers still exist to some degree and most people realize that people with creative talent require compensation in order to live, but the library of the future will make such barriers non-existent. How will someone who writes, draws, sings, or does anything else creative survive in a world where free electronic forms of everything exist?

I imagine that artists of all sorts will need to find some other means of support in the future. Perhaps that government will step in and provide compensation to artists from library fees or taxes. Certainly, the current system of copyright is breaking down already. I read about copyright issues almost daily online in articles such as this one on ComputerWorld. However, legislating morality has never worked in the history of the world and I doubt very much it will work now, especially considering what I see happening in government funded agencies such as libraries. Change is inevitable, if not always good. Then again, I can’t see this particular change as necessarily bad (despite not necessarily wanting to live it myselfcall me attached to the physical book or simply outdated).

What sorts of changes are you seeing in your local library? Where do you feel these changes will end? How will people of a creative bent be compensated in the future? I’d love to hear your views on any or all of these questions at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.