Wednesday June 10, 2009

Futures Forum - Libraries in 2030

Dibrary central room, with neon sculpture

Dibrary central room, with neon sculpture – photo by Roslyn Russell

Last Thursday the State Library held a forum to discuss scenarios for the future of the NSW Public Library Network.

What is the role and relevance of libraries in the digital age? Will Councils continue to fund public libraries? Will public libraries be able to freely lend digital works as well as books? What will local libraries like Mosman look like in 2030?

After a pep talk from Richard Neville, a panel discussion took place with representatives of the publishing industry, booksellers and libraries. The panelists included Cathy Johnson from Clarence Regional Library who had an optimistic view of libraries in 2030. She sees future libraries as community hubs – well funded, well utilised and at the forefront of technology.

She discussed how future libraries wouldn’t necessarily be limited to their physical place. Libraries would have mobile work stations, virtual librarians in a distributed workforce and 24/7 online accessibility. She sees libraries more socially inclusive, taking services to where people are, rather than expecting people to walk through the doors. She dreams of being able to help from her desk a customer in another branch, her virtual self walking that customer to the shelf or assisting with a complex reference query. Cathy talked about a world with one universal library management system – not just in Sydney but all of NSW and maybe even all of Australia! This idea brought spontaneous applause from the audience.

Other participants emphasised the library’s reason for being – that information should continue to be available to anyone no matter their colour, class or creed. Ken Fitch’s call for a digital lending right seems even more pertinent now as more and more information, ephemera and cultural works are distributed digitally.

All participants agreed that the library must become the ‘third place’ – where people can work, search and create in a community space. For example, the world’s first national digital library, the dibrary in Korea, offers studios for users to record and edit video. One forum participant made the analogy that libraries should be more like kitchens than grocery stores.

An article that has resonated with Mosman Library’s staff is by Thomas Frey called The Future of Libraries: Beginning the Great Transformation. Thomas Frey is the Executive Director and Senior Futurist at the DaVinci Institute and currently Google’s top rated futurist speaker.

Amy B & Bernard D

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