I’ve been spending a lot of time in the past few weeks thinking about what libraries (particularly the BU Theology Library) will be in ten years. Libraries are changing so rapidly that it is hard to see more than three to five years into the future. Ten years? That’s hard! But here goes. First some basic assumptions…
- The School of Theology will still be here and will need bibliographic resources to support its educational and research programs.
- The Internet won’t melt down. Viruses, worms, spam and obscenity are the present threat, but the flip side is censorship and lock down, and of course that users will be so frustrated that they will simply give up.
- Most publishers will publish in both digital and print formats.
- The Google project to digitize the collections of five research libraries, the Open Content Alliance, and numerous other digitization projects will have digitized a significant portion of the existing print collections held by research libraries.
That’s to say that we will still be supporting the educational and research needs of the School of Theology in a culture that is even more defined by digital content. So what will the Library be…
- During the next ten years, the medium for information storage, discovery, and retrieval will become primarily digital.
- For many, digital media will also the media of choice for information use. A significant portion of users, however, will require a print on demand service to support the use of information stored in digital format.
- The concept of a library collection will either be redefined or simply become obsolete. Aggregators and publishers will continue to bundle multiple titles into single price packages available through license agreements. (Libraries have traditionally selected such items individually for purchase and permanent addition to a physical collection.)
- Publishers and aggregators will market directly to users, bypassing libraries. Information discovery tools the build on the technologies of Google, Yahoo and others will seamlessly index information available through open access as well as licensed materials.
- The primary pedagogical task for librarians will shift from collection development as a means of filtering information and providing quality control for users to helping users to develop the skills to filter and to critically assess the information they discover.
- The primary “technical services” task will be to build linking mechanisms that enable social network tagging systems to easily communicate with each other.
In some ways, this doesn’t feel that much different from what where we are now. In other ways, it will be redically different. Much of what I’ve said above focuses on changes in business models and technology. The Library will certainly respond to these changes. In doing so, the Library’s work that has been balanced between serving the needs of users and collecting and preserving documents will shift increasingly to be user focused. Content will become a commodity. The Library’s role will become increasingly pedagogical.