Future of Libraries

The Future of Libraries – Reflections on Access Lab 2020 keynote

20 May 2020 • Jane Charlton, senior marketing manager - community and content

At our 2020 Access Lab conference, CILIP’s chief executive Nick Poole, gave a keynote speech on the topic of libraries and what he and his team predict will happen to the sector in the future.

Nick began by explaining that the key ethos of CILIP, the UK’s library and information association, is the belief in the power of libraries, knowledge and information to change lives for the better.

A lot of Nick’s thinking centered around that of Rolf Hapel, distinguished professor of practice in residence at the University of Washington information school (UW iSchool), Seattle. who said:

“The library was never finished. It was never meant to be finished.”

Rolf Hapel

His vision was that what we are doing here is a permanent and ongoing process. A process of evolution and change.

Halpel’s previous role was as director of citizen’s services and libraries in Aarhus, Germany. His idea – that we engage in an ongoing process of discovery, unlearning, relearning, change and adaptation – was central to Nick’s presentation on the future of libraries.

The need for trusted access to quality information in a format and location to meet people is as old as we are, Nick commented.

We are living and working in the early days of a society and an economy that is being transformed by knowledge, data and information.

Nick Poole

When looking at how our generation will adapt, Nick referenced to the current coronavirus pandemic and recent conflicts as examples of disruption and displacement in the world. He cited how people go on to build libraries as a vital part of rebuilding their lives.

COVID-19 is an example of how libraries build resilience, facilitate the flow of knowledge and information and will help us to recover, socially and economically.

Nick Poole

How is the world around us changing?

CILIP undertakes work around foresight analysis, taking a 20-30-year view on the future development of the sector. This regular foresight and analysis helps to identify wider social, economic, and technological trends that will shape the future needs of information users.

Nick outlined the eight key themes that have been identified:

  1. Demographic change
  2. Understanding the changing attitudes and behaviors of users
  3. A period of political adjustment
  4. The environmental imperative
  5. Ongoing technical change
  6. ‘Finding alpha’ in knowledge, data and information
  7. The bottom line and ‘social ROI’
  8. Information overload

What does this mean for our industry?

The above forces are reshaping user expectations of the future of libraries. In conclusion there are some key insights to be taken:

  • Change is the new constant
  • We have to learn, unlearn and relearn on an ongoing basis
  • Our values and ethics really matter
  • There is a central role for our services
  • We have to be more environmentally accountable
  • We have to do better on diversity and representation
  • Convenience, immediacy and agency are areas we need to improve upon

The library of the future can meet these challenges by balancing access to four elements:

  1. The element of developing the skills and literacy of our users
  2. An ongoing need for access to quality books and information and curated collections
  3. An increasing, developing and changing need for digital connectivity and resources
  4. A requirement for events activities and experiences to drive engagement.

All these will be delivered in a wide range of physical and online contexts. Moving seamlessly with the user as they move between activities. Nick concluded:

I think the real expertise of the librarian will be about how these elements are configured and how we support users to develop the facility, literacy and agency to make the best of them.

Nick Poole
Woman attending a webinar from home