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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.

The Future of Libraries

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, March 05, 2017

What is the future of libraries?  That question, or some version of that question, has become the most common question asked of librarians today.

 

“We can learn a great deal about what may happen in the future by looking systematically at what is actually happening now,” wrote Edward Cornish, one of the founders of the World Future Society.

 

The American Library Association has been actively looking at the future of libraries for some time, and has revealed some of its findings.

 

First, remember that there are more public libraries in the U.S. than McDonald’s Restaurants, and in 2016 there were 1.5 billion library visits by users.

 

Now, of course, there is a whole new category of users that are downloading information and eBooks without ever entering a public library building.

 

Librarians are experts in the field of finding, organizing, processing, and prioritizing information; and as such, we observe our communities and the implications and trends for the long term.

 

We combine that information with the professional values of library science including confidentiality, diversity, equitable access, intellectual freedom and preservation.

 

As libraries change with technology, the basic premise of providing information and reading has not changed, only the tools have changed.

 

Some of the new tools that libraries are using include social media as a means of distributing information about library resources.

 

Our own library system actively uses Facebook and Instagram to reach thousands of library users and promote resources available.

 

It serves as a new means of communication with the public regarding the library system.

 

Accessibility is the new means of providing information to the public using technology.  Various new technologies such as eBooks and eMagazines allow everyone to access information.

 

Libraries continue to work on the physical aspects of accessibility as we are doing in finally making the Main Library building accessible to all.

 

Probably one of the biggest issues in libraries today is educating the public that the Internet has not put the public library out-of-business.

 

While the Internet has brought information into everyone’s home and office, public libraries continue to be busy as we fill the gap in people’s access to the Internet, and the access to organized information.

 

Our library system is observing an increased demand for Internet connectivity, as well as access to faxing due to difficulties in home use of both.

 

Every day we yield the question/comment, “I was on the Internet last night, and ….”

 

The public library has a marvelous web site that is another branch library linked to all the online resources that are organized and available at www.steubenvillelibrary.org

 

We are also finding that people want libraries to do more and more programming from author talks to trivia games.

 

In addition, people do really read the old-fashioned paperbound books in huge numbers.  Over 700,000 were checked out in Jefferson County last year, in addition to all the electronic downloads that leave the library system.

 

A final issue from the Leadership Conferences was the need for a stable source of funding so libraries can serve the public.

 

This issue always emerges, but the likelihood of a resolution is small.  In Ohio, we experienced a stable funding source from 1986-1999 until the State decided to balance its budget by “adjusting” local government funds.