Reports of the death of public libraries have been greatly exaggerated

Public libraries are an idea whose time is now!

Now if you haven’t stepped inside your local library any time over the past twenty years this might seem ridiculous. In fact, ask the average person on the street what a public library could be in 2030 and the mainstream response is likely to be: “Libraries won’t exist because books won’t exist.”

To these people, the image of a public library remains indelibly linked to the past: ceiling high rows of books, hawk-eyed librarians, and a deathly silence occasionally interrupted by the echo of shoes on floorboards or a distant “Shhh!!”

Today’s reality is quite different, and for many years now public libraries have been undertaking a (not so) quiet revolution. In fact, if you’ve been lucky enough to attend your local library during their weekly Story Time or Baby Bounce sessions for infants, you’ll agree that public libraries have become a vital community source for providing vibrant, creative and yes, even noisy experiences.

But what of the future? Surely the omnipresence of technology and growth in e-books has reduced the relevance of public libraries?

Well, to paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the death of public libraries have been greatly exaggerated.

Over the past year I have been working with the State Library of Victoria designing a strategic framework for Victorian Public Libraries that addresses the question: ‘What is a public library in 2030?’

The process involved over 90 public library employees from across Victoria in the creation of future scenarios, the development of future visions, and the setting of future strategic objectives.

And what was the key finding from this process?

Public libraries can play a significant role within their communities in the future.

This project identified the emergence of five prominent social trends that could shape community behaviours, wants and needs over the next twenty years:

Creativity, collaboration, brain health, dynamic learning and community connection

As these trends emerge, more and more people will be seeking to explore and develop their creative interests.

They will be looking for opportunities to partner and share with others, both as individuals and as organisations.

They will recognise the need for lifelong mental engagement, stimulation and care.

They will feel the need to continuously learn new knowledge and skills to participate fully in a rapidly changing environment.

And they will have an increasing desire for stable and trusted relationships with people and places of common interest.

All of these trends play to the strengths of public libraries.

And as these trends emerge, public libraries have the opportunity to become vibrant creativity hubs, facilitating communal creative development and expression.

They have the opportunity to become co-working hubs, bringing people and organisations together to collaborate creatively, socially and professionally.

They have the opportunity to become the community’s brain gymnasium.

They have the opportunity to provide community learning programs that support 21st century literacy.

And they have the opportunity to become the community agora – a meeting place for people to gather, share and learn.

These trends not only offer public libraries the opportunity to continue their transformation towards providing active, service-based experiences, they also provide a directional purpose for future strategic planning.

So, what could public libraries become in 2030?

In essence, a public library’s core proposition in 2030 will remain communal content and literacy. However, the nature of these services will broaden significantly, in line with changing community wants and needs.

To satisfy their community’s emerging creativity needs, public libraries will provide the programs, facilities and assistance that enables the community to achieve their creative goals. This might include studios for rehearsing, recording and editing content; workshops to facilitate individual and group artistic development; or formal business spaces for collaborative tele-commuting.

And to meet their community’s emerging dynamic learning needs, public libraries will provide the programs, facilities and assistance that supports 21st century literacy needs. This might include community learning programs, training and workshops; communal meeting spaces for forums and public lectures; or social spaces that provide for informal learning.

It’s this potential for a broader mix of functions around the central concepts of content and literacy that presents such an exciting opportunity for public libraries in the future. A future in which public libraries occupy a relevant and prominent position at the centre of their local communities.

 

The Victorian Public Libraries 2030 process and strategic framework was designed by Steve Tighe. The Full Report and Executive Summary are available for download from the Public Libraries Victoria Network website

 

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