Future Libraries © Mark Stedman

Future Libraries

Why do we speak about function(s) and the role(s) of libraries so much these days?

It seems that we do not want to lose this space where we find books, DVDs, magazines, CDs, a place to work and learn, a room where we meet others, can ask questions, comment on a piece of writing, discuss controversial publications, or simply get lost in a fictional world.

Why are we afraid of losing this space? What exactly do we need or expect from this haven? And who is “we”?

Future Libraries: Texts

Why do we speak about function(s) and the role(s) of libraries so much these days?
It seems that we do not want to lose this space where we find books, DVDs, magazines, CDs, a place to work and learn, a room where we meet others, can ask questions, comment on a piece of writing, discuss controversial publications, or simply get lost in a fictional world.
Why are we afraid of losing this space? What exactly do we need or expect from this haven? And who is “we”?
“We” – readers, writers, librarians, children, students, parents, people who are curious, people who are trying to make sense of what they encounter.
Finding information, processing information – understanding what we find is part of our modern world. The shape and future of this modern world seems to be digital.
Will the digital world take over libraries? – E-books are books. So there is still a library. No need to be afraid then! Well, physical space would be replaced by a virtual world. How does this change affect us? What part of the physical world is necessary for our lives and even essential for us as human beings?
Prof. Freeman Dyson gave a talk at UCD about the human brain being mainly analogue.[1] He poses the question whether an analogue being can be imitated by digital devices– a computer, a robot etc.? “Unexpected discoveries” seem to be a key to what we need in order to understand what we see in the world. Freeman refers to SF-writers describing digital and analogue life before it has been understood by science. So, the human approach cannot be limited to digital media but needs context like space.
We experience both, the digital world and the analogue world - we need both, we need to cross a border to get from one to the other. Libraries offer both experiences, they offer collections of genres, specific and specialized collections - and more. A visitor can use a library as a gate to the unknown or as a partner in a dialogue.  Whether virtual or physical, there is room for research and creativity.
These and other ideas emerge in discussions about libraries all over the world. The Goethe-Institut Ireland initiated a conference called “Future Libraries” in December 2017, where many librarians, writers, academics and publishers contributed to a fruitful exchange.
Anne Klapperstück, head of library, organized the conference and wanted to see the documentation of it as “the first book in the new library” at Merrion Square, the refurbished 1790 Georgian townhouse, where the Goethe-Institut Ireland is reopening in September 2018. It has been a great pleasure to take over this task and collect the contributions by Mia Gallagher, Annabelle Malandrin, Grainne Clear, Eimear Mannion and Cian O’Braonain in order to present ideas about “Future Libraries”.
Eimear and Cian are both Transition Year Students and worked with us in the library for one week in 2018. Their contributions are valuable for this book and the library as they are young voices we need to listen to.
Mia’s thoughts and feelings give us insight to what it means to read and what an author regards important - how the creative process of writing books can be affected. Annabelle as the Director of the French Library in Alliance Française shares her views and visions related to guiding the way for readers in the digital universe. Grainne is publishing Manager and Art Director at Little Island Books, so she is an important link between writers and readers - including librarians. 

[1] Prof Freeman Dyson, "Are Brains Analogue or Digital?", 19th May 2014 - Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, Statutory Public Lecture of the School of Theoretical Physics, in association with the UCD School of Physics. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JLT6omWrvIw
The Future of Libraries
For centuries libraries have been the salvation of parents and the entertainment of children. But in the year 2018, is the ideal rainy day still to sit in the library and read or is it to sit at home watching TV shows?
From the year 1858 when the first public library of Ireland opened in Dundalk, County Louth, libraries have been shaping the lives of people. Millions of stories have been shared with the community and have given children and adults alike a place to escape from the fears of the world in the past. But is there a need for libraries now? Do the people of today still seek an escape? I feel like now more than ever people use reading as an escape from social media. The device that is constantly hooked to our hands and the glaring screen that never leaves our eyes for more than 10 minutes. There are so many dangers in the cyber world. Maybe we now need libraries more than ever.
Libraries have always been a huge part of my life. From a young age my mom would take my brothers and I up to the library that was a ten-minute walk away from my house. I'd bring a big bag with me and pick out lots of books. I loved to read and often I’d finish the books that night and I’d beg my mom to bring me back to return the books the next day. Even to this day my mom still brings my younger cousins and they enjoy the trip more than any game we put in front of them. I asked myself why and this is what I thought of. In these days modern technology does everything for us; it washes our dishes, it sets appointments and it even has an imagination for the kids of today because they don't have to picture anything; all that they want is at a click of a button, so maybe reading is something amazing for kids and adults alike because we must think and put ourselves into the story. When I was younger I could spend hours wandering the shelves searching for my next story, whether that was a thrilling adventure in a faraway place or a more realistic story about growing up. I grew up with wizards in a school and now kids grow up with a phone in their hand. When I started secondary school I stopped going to the library and I never knew why. Perhaps because I have a phone now that preoccupies me or now you can buy books online for very cheap. Now I use the library as a quiet place to study and to get work done. The library still hasn’t lost its aspect of being a quiet calm place to retreat to, and I think in a world that has become so loud it is amazing how it has kept its original purpose of a quiet place to come and read.
What I believe will happen to libraries.
Sadly, in recent years libraries have become less popular with the new generation of children. Now kids want smart phones and have no interest in reading. Even schools have tried taking a new approach by going online to teach kids how to read. Children’s creativity is being shattered by new waves of technology and I feel like this may have an impact on how our libraries may look in the future. Picture this; a quiet, modern building, but instead of books the shelves are filled with USB sticks, keyboards, and tablets. Everything is self-operated, and no one is in sight. To return your e-book is like going to an ATM. I fear that libraries may end up being like movie rental shops and that the libraries like we know them today will become a rarity and I don’t feel comfortable with that.
If we are going to preserve the future of libraries I think we need to stop trying to bring advanced technology in and try and modernize the way we physically read books - and making reading a cool thing to do.
In my opinion, I hope we do have libraries in the future and while thinking about the times to come this quote by Stephen Fry gives me hope: "Books are no more threatened by Kindle then stairs by elevators”.
 
 
1)   How often do you read?
               
  Daily       Weekly       Monthly       Yearly       Never
2)   Do you prefer print books or e-books?

 

Print books                e-books
         3) Do you ever go to the library?             Yes     No
         4) How many books have you read so far this year?

 

             0       1-3       4-6       7-9       10+
         5) Do you think e-books will take over print books?
          
              Yes                                       No
         6) Do you think libraries are up to date in technology?
 
              Yes                                        No    
If not ,how can they improve?
        
         7) What do you use the library for?

 

         Borrowing/reading books     Studying      Research      All  
In total I surveyed 10 people. The results are displayed as followed.
 
1)

Everybody answered Daily for question one.  I probably should have put “how often do you read books?” as the question, the outcome might have been different for that.
2)

For question 2, 8 people said they prefer print books, one person prefers e-books and one person likes both equally. This is interesting as technology grows people still prefer an old fashioned paper book.
3) For question three 8 people said they go to the library and 2 people say they do not.
4) For question four people were asked how many books they have read so far this year. They were given options to choose from. The average amount of books that were read by these people was 2.3 so far this year.
5) People were asked on question five if they think that e-books will take over from Print books. 7 people said they don’t think e-books will take over print books. 3 People said they think they will.
6) For question 6 people were asked if they think that libraries are up to date in technology. Interestingly 5 people said they do think they are up to date in technology. 4 people said they weren’t and one person didn’t answer but commented “getting there”.
 
I asked for people who answered no to state how they think libraries can improve their technologies. People said Funding, and computer services will improve their technologies.
 
7) People were asked what they use the library for.

3 people said they use the library for borrowing books. 2 people said they used the library for studying. 2 people use it for research and 3 people use it for all of the options.
 
When surveying I stood outside a book shop which may or may not have been a bit biased. I asked from a range of young to old. Some people were too busy to take part in the survey and some people were not interested.
We’ve discussed the future of libraries a lot as the digital age is already upon us. The digital content and the devices themselves bring many new questions to the table.

With information available everywhere on the internet, instantly and from a huge variety of sources, why would people still come to libraries to find them? Is it safe to assume that people think libraries should now be all equipped with digital tools and offer ebooks, augmented reality experiences or workshops? What role will librarians take in this model?

The main issue when it comes to online information might be its reliability. Fake news, absence of objectivity… it is easy to be lost among the quantity, for general research or news. From this perspective, an informative and advisory role for librarians is essential and they should go - a lot of libraries are already doing this now - where people look for the information: online.

As a consequence, resources found/uploaded and inputted online by librarians directly would be an interesting way to offer an extended access to the users, with verified information, the possibility to upload selections, documentary files, videos from workshops and so on. It is also a cost free way to go for smaller libraries which can’t afford to buy all resources in hard copies.

The advisory role relating to the use of digital tools is also of great importance. To give an example ; at the Alliance Française Dublin, the decision was taken two years ago to buy 15 tablets for the users of the library and for French courses, following the idea that digital tools properly used can be a great way to learn, create, and play. We also use the tablets for workshops every week, with both adults (BYOD types), children and their parents. Digital workshops can be huge fun and bring together a mix of different mediums: video, games, music, art and crafts… it’s another way to stimulate the imagination overall and explore new forms of expression. 

Although, there is a lot of discussion going on at the moment in the medias about the risk of using digital tools with children, about eyes, concentration, and the problems relating to a lack of interaction, and these issues must be taken seriously. A lot of parents don’t really know how to deal with digital tools and children, who use them, and which guidelines to follow. During a talk about parenthood and digital media led by the organisation La Souris Grise in The French Institute of London, we found out that most of the audience had no clue about this topic, an impression reinforced by the fact that the great majority of adults have their smartphone around all the time in front of their children but, of course, none of them can rely on their own experience as they didn’t grow up with digital media.

We’ve therefore decided to work on these topics, in order to provide selected apps from reliable websites and our own experiences, and useful advice for the users. The aim is not to discourage people from using digital tools, but to prevent an abusive or incorrect application. Doing that, we realized that some parents greatly appreciate coming into the library to use digital tools because it provides a safe space where the kids know they may use the tablet for just a certain period of time, and because they can get new ideas for art & crafts to combine with the apps – something important to help kids realize that a tablet is just another activity, not the main point they should focus on.
This role, we think, should become more and more important in the years to come.

This concept of experience is further becoming one of the main objectives of new libraries, and is essential to the concept of ‘Third Place’ libraries. It’s about offering the users different and unexpected spaces on top of the traditional services: a social hub, a language centre, a creative room, and so on. This approach brings new practices into the library (from coding to knitting, gardening to yoga…) which provide new skills and connections between people.
It can also be a safe and non-commercial space where you come to rest from outside activity, especially in big cities. For example, at the library La Canopée Paris, located on the top floor of one of the biggest malls in town, teenagers are encouraged to come and have a chat in the library, surrounded by comics and mangas, instead of going shopping. There the traditional  cliché of “shhhh!” from librarians doesn’t exist at all. Taking time for yourself, to learn and be open to new experiences is what users are encouraged to do in these safe spaces.
Another example ; it is now common in American or French libraries to find seeds or tools banks, to be in a workshop organized by one of the users… Maybe a new initiative? to encourage to share practices, to use and reuse rather than to buy and consume?

 

Connected to this notion of experience is the function of libraries as cultural venues, which are more and more involved in programming cultural events.

Shows, performances, and festivals are now regularly taking place in libraries. Let’s take a French example once more: shows for children - theatre, dance, music, etc. - are now usually adaptable for theaters, schools and libraries. This new tendency impacts strongly on the way libraries are built and furnished, with more and more multiform places that can turn into different arrangements to host a wide range of activities.

Mediators, cultural programmers, social mix creators… and many other new roles still to be imagined: librarians, in addition to their initial tasks, have great possibilities ahead to feed their practice within new forms of libraries!

Annabelle Malandrin

Director of the French Library, Alliance Française Dublin
When I was a kid, libraries were quiet places that held books, journals and newspapers; librarians were custodians of silence and paper. Like most kids. I was full of contradictions. I could easily feel awkward and out of place, though in the right company I could chat away for ages. I liked being physically active, and bossing my siblings and cousins around in made-up story adventures. But I also loved stepping into the silence of the library, opening a book and having no distractions to take me away from it.
I was an avid reader, often having two or three books on the go at the same time. While I had a substantial collection at home–and relished digging into the books my parents had kept since their childhoods—I read quickly and was always on the lookout for something new. So going to the library was as much something I initiated myself as something suggested to me by adults. There was a ritual associated with it. The walk or cycle over to our nearest library, in Rathmines. The silence that descended when I walked through the lovely double doors, the mysteriousness of the options presented to me. The grown-ups’ section ahead of me, beyond the barriers. The curving staircase that would lead upwards and present me with yet more choices: on the left the fascinating Research Library (a place I have still not entered), on my right the Children’s Section.
I can still feel, viscerally, the sense of wonder and relief when I walked into that little upstairs room. A vague twinge of anxiety in case the good books would be all gone. The excitation of standing in front of the shelves, dipping in, figuring out which titles I wanted to borrow, which could wait for another week or two and which I had a sudden hankering to re-read. And finally, the satisfying moment of contact: the librarian’s smile and here you go, the clunk of his or her stamp on the page as What Katy Did was made mine for two weeks.
Our evening on Future Libraries was full of words. We debated, argued, teased out, came to consensus, disagreed. We asked questions, lots of questions, but the one that keeps coming back to me is: What makes a library a library?
On the night my gut instinct was to say ‘a place with books’. I insisted, in fact, that the word ‘books’ be included on our brainstorming page. That’s got a lot to do with my early memories of libraries. But it’s also tied to the fact that I’m a writer, a maker of books. I want people to read them, I love reading them, I think they’re important. And, etymologically ‘library’ stems from the Latin word ‘liber’ (book). But, as we discussed during the evening, our libraries now hold texts that go beyond words on a page: audio, film, visual art, digital media, lectures, conversations. So calling a library a ‘place with books’ no longer quite catches it. I studied Barthes and the post-structuralists in college so I know all this, in theory. But it still challenged me on the night, when others in my group shook their heads at the word ‘books’. If books no longer have their own spaces, then I can’t help feeling a little sad.
I’ve been chewing over our discussion during the last four months, and as I have, my sense of ‘library’ has started to shift. I’m not coming any closer to a perfect definition but it seems to me that what libraries offer is, like places of worship, a space where the human animal can both journey outwards into communication with others — either mediated through text fashioned by another or in direct dialogue with someone else – and journey inwards, into their own minds, memories, imagination and creativity. There are other spaces that let people travel both these directions at the same time: class-rooms and lecture halls; cinemas, theatres, concert halls; gardens, parks, wilderness, as well as those weird inbetweeny sites like airports, train stations or the back-seat of a car. So what makes a library different to all of these?
For a start, I’d say it’s got something to do with multiplicity. In a cinema, lecture-hall, class-room or concert-hall, the group is focused on a single text; as it is in most places of worship where faith is codified into a text, or group of related texts. In academic places, even if a lecturer or teacher is referencing multiple texts when they speak, the group as a whole is being asked to attend to one text at a time, within a single overarching text—the lecture itself. In cultivated gardens, parks or forests, we could say the text is the design of the place; each of us might be noticing a particular plant or tree or grove or flowerbed, but these have been put together, by humans, to create again, one single text: whichever garden, park or forest we’re experiencing in that moment.
Environmental journalist Gaia Vince talks about the ‘Anthropocene’, the era we’re living in now, the one dominated by humans, where no matter how far we travel we can’t get away from ourselves. David Attenborough too has spoken of how pure wilderness is almost impossible to find: national parks, the closest many Western countries get to unsullied nature, all have an element of design to them, even if it’s just the boundary lines around them. But if by some miracle I do end up in a wilderness that is completely uncultivated, then I’m not in the presence of human-made text at all. So this too, is a different offering to the library.
As for those inbetweeny travel places which allow us to journey out and in at the same time… Here, like a library, there can be multiplicity. Everyone on a plane can be reading a different text—and I use the word ‘reading’ loosely here, to refer to films, music, podcasts as well as books. There’s no single moment at which we’re all asked to take our eyes up from our text to look at the sun setting beyond the edge of the airplane wing. So in that way our attentiveness is dispersed, not collective like worship or a lecture or a concert. Also like a library, there’s an element of wandering and browsing; we can choose what text to sample from the media selection curated by the airline or what we’ve packed in our carry-on. But the backseat of a car or the Starbucks plastic chair in an airport is, most definitely, not a library, although we may be accessing a library from these places. We’re not in a plane or café primarily to ‘read’ the texts these places offer. We’re there to get from A to B, to drink coffee, to kill time. As a result, the moments of reading there have an atomised, often random feeling to them.
Libraries, on the other hand, are always visited with purpose, and that purpose is nearly always connected with ‘reading’.
Initially for me, the purpose of the library was pleasure. As a kid, I loved reading stories set in the past, or other countries, or fantasy worlds. The library was a portal and escape hatch. In my teens the adventure continued, but into different territories. At thirteen I borrowed Brighton Rock. I remember picking up the plastic-covered hardbook, flicking to a page where Pinkie wields a knife to threaten a young woman, and feeling caught, in a palpable, weird, excited way. I didn’t understand what was going on, but I knew I had to read this story, that I’d feel different after it. Later I devoured Rathmines Library’s comprehensive collection of yellow-jacketed Gollancz sci-fi novels and story collections. The book I remember most from those borrowings is Robert Silverberg’s Thomas the Proclaimer; a dystopian metaphysical novel about a messianic figure brought low by a mob.
Silverberg is an intelligent, questioning and emotive writer; I’m an emotive reader and faith, or the loss of it, was a big deal to me in my teens. I cried reading that book. Though my dad is a big sci-fi fan and has a significant collection at home, he didn’t have this book. Like Brighton Rock and countless others I don’t have space to name here, Silverberg’s novel affected me, changed me, influencing me as a writer. Without the library to offer me those experiences, would I be writing the stories and books I write now?
In college my purpose changed, and so did my concept of ‘library’. From a place of pleasure, transgression, fantasy and escape, the library became a workplace. Like all students, I couldn’t afford all the books on my reading list, so I used the library to access them. Our college librarians were terrific; dedicated, helpful, knowledgeable. But thinking about that time—when I’d sit for hours and pore through a pile of books, frantically taking notes for essays or exams—still gives me a knot in my stomach. I’d never sat that long in a library before, or struggled with books. Instead of dawdling between Pinkie and Heathcliff, wondering which bad boy I was going to take home to bed with me, I found myself staring at Heidegger and Wittgenstein, willing my inadequate mind to make connections. While around me rose my, and others’, unbearable animal noises: sniffling, coughing, chewing, whispering. When I think of that time, I can still taste my overriding fear, of failure.
A few years after graduating I went back to DCU to work in their Distance Education Unit, researching IT for an early digital project. The subject was fairly boring, but my memories of my trips back to the college library on those days are suffused – literally – with golden sunlight. Maybe this was because the library had been expanded and was in a new part of the university, with decent windows looking out onto the then still-green campus. Maybe it was because I’d scammed some time away from the office and, unsupervised, could spend hours staring out those windows, taking really slow notes to eke out my down-time—the lazy bad girl shadow of my hyper-achieving, good-girl college persona. Or maybe having started to meditate the year before had helped me begin to turn and face my competitive, anxious, self-doubting baggage.
Since then, I’ve visited other libraries for research—some for other people’s projects, some for my own. While I wouldn’t say I get a transgressively pleasurable kick out of researching in libraries the way I did when picking up The Scarlet Pimpernel as a kid, there is a quiet satisfaction to it. I can focus, sample, browse. Dip my head up and look at all the people who make libraries their home. Hear the animal sounds without getting too stressed. And I have great, memorable moments of connection with librarians. The Bristol librarian who helped me source images and stories to flesh out my second novel. Meeting novelist and short-story writer Éilís ní Dhuibhne, who worked in the National Library in the 1980s and guided me to 18th Century texts while I was researching a documentary on Frederick Harvey, the Bishop of Derry. Most recently, sitting in the Goethe Institut’s library with Anne Klapperstuck, learning about her own impressive writing practice, a secret, that like all good librarians, she had kept very much to herself.
During our evening in December, many groups around the table talked about how you can’t have a library without a librarian. We all—generally—agreed with this. Though I have to qualify this by saying t’s hard to identify the librarians who look after digital libraries and archives. And if someone—like the late artist Stephen McKenna—has built a library in their own home through careful, assiduous purchases of meaningful texts, does that make them a librarian? I’m not sure. A librarian can be a curator, or custodian; a gate-keeper or guardian; even an enforcer. But they don’t have to be. The one thing they have to be is available to guide the reader—and again I use the term ‘reader’ loosely here, to refer to people who engage with many different types of texts. Who but a librarian can lead us to the best food for our brains, hearts and souls, while all the while keeping an eye on the texts and happenings under their watch and ensuring the space itself is nourished, replenished, cultivated and cared for? It’s the presence of a guide that, ultimately, makes a library so different to that plastic seat in Starbucks.
Let’s go back to that other multiplicity offered by the library: the opportunity to journey in and out at the same time. Through a social lens, this translates into the offer of community and, simultaneously, privacy, the permission to turn one’s back on the pack. This seems to me to be utterly radical. Where else in contemporary Western society is it accepted, expected even, to reject another’s attempt to make contact? I’ve worked with many JCSP Libraries in secondary schools since the late noughties, doing writing workshops with young teenagers, many of whom have literacy issues. What’s struck me most about these places is the permission they gave their readers—again I’m using that term loosely—to duck out of having to be social.
There’s always readers in the JCSP libraries. Young people who can be experiencing difficulties at home, in the classroom, with fellow-students, with the school authorities. Sometimes they visit the library to do a workshop with people like me, which, handily—like my ‘research’ for Distance Ed in DCU—gives them time to scam off class. Sometimes it’s to read or listen to a book or comic or music, from the massively entertaining offerings on store. Sometimes they’re at a screen, playing a game or surfing the web. Sometimes they’re curled up in a corner of a sofa, catching up on sleep they haven’t been able to get at home. And sometimes they’re just sitting there, in their own little bubble of troubled young humandom, allowed—for once—to not to have to talk to anyone, to just be.
What a relief. What a gift. What a thing worth preserving.