Future of libraries Five Statements

City library Stuttgart
City library Stuttgart | Photo (detail): © Südpol-Redaktionsbüro/T. Köster

Five experts offer answers to the question of what libraries will look like in future and what roles and challenges lie ahead for them.

“Either libraries will be democratizing physical and virtual places offering unrestricted access to media and information, be it physically available or ready for download, licensed or stored and accessible in clouds. The physical library will provide a pleasant environment in which to spend time and to enjoy a range of learning opportunities that are independent and unattached to any particular institution, and a place where people can come together and feel at ease. The virtual library will continue to play the same indispensable information centre role as before, no matter whether its clients are at home or out and about.

Or the world will be divided into those who can financially afford all the information and access they require, and those who have to make do with a museum-like collection of physical media.

I am convinced and full of hope that the first model will ensure we do not find ourselves facing a digital social divide. Long live the library!

Klaus-Peter Böttger, director of Essen Public Library and chairman of the European Bureau of Library, Information and Documentation (EBLIDA).

Libraries as an interface

“The library will serve as an interface between the real world – people with their learning, information and entertainment needs – and the digital world. After all, what other institution should point people searching for information in the direction of the fantastic services offered by the German Digital Library or the Europeana library? This requires actual physical sites and, above all, qualified librarians.

I imagine libraries as being wonderfully-furnished and well-appointed centres that serve people’s very different needs: we can find a bit of peace and quiet there, listen to music, watch films, browse print media, explore virtual media worlds, meet and chat to others, attend events and training courses. Libraries in future will be places where we are inspired to learn and to acquire knowledge in a variety of media worlds.”

Monika Ziller, director of Heilbronn Public Library and former chairwoman of the German Library Association (dbv).

Libraries as places of public learning

“Libraries, as places of non-school learning, will be full of people seeking an inspiring public place where they can tap into their creativity and communicate with one another. They will be places of communication and public learning where groups can also form, meet and organize their activities. People will take advantage of the media and databases available there in order to further develop as individuals.

At the same time, libraries will become much more virtualized. At present, for instance, the online offerings of major newspapers are being radically commercialized. A lot of what is accessible for free nowadays will certainly incur charges in the future. Libraries must continue to be able to make information available to people who would otherwise be unwilling or unable to afford it – as enshrined in Article 5 of the German constitution.”

Barbara Lison, director of Bremen Public Library and a member of the Governing Board of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA).

Libraries stand for openness and interconnectedness

“The library of the future will be housed in an attractive building and will at the same time be an integral part of digital networks. Appealing architecture allows people to visualize and sense the symbolic significance of the library as a place of culture and science, thinking, learning and entertainment. It draws people in – some because they love libraries as a meeting place that is full of life, and others because they seek the concentrated silence of reading rooms.

Alongside this visible home, however, the library of the future will use its reliable, stable, citable and neutral data and services to establish a cultural network in the linked open data cloud. Just as publications are increasingly often dynamic, interactive and undergoing a constant process of change as part of the Internet, libraries will then stand for openness, interconnectedness, interoperability and flexibility in the networks of the future.”

Elisabeth Niggemann, director general of the German National Library.

Libraries as interactive spaces

“In the academic library of the future, books will have lost their function as a dominant medium. They will be entirely or at least mainly superseded by digital resources which will no longer function in the same way as books, and will thus be able to be part of research environments in a quite different way. Libraries will then no longer be a place where containers of information are kept. Academic librarians will have to address the content of their resources in a very different way than they have in the past. They will have to enable a cultural transition from dealing with containers to dealing with content.

This will by no means make the library as a physical building obsolete. After all, even if our research is increasingly digitally-based, people will still need to be in contact with one another. And libraries could – perhaps under a different name – play a key role as meeting places and as interactive spaces in universities.”

Stefan Gradmann, professor of library and information science at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and president of the German Society of Information Science and Information Practice (DGI).