The Future of Libraries

I have such fond childhood memories of libraries.

Paula LaBrot

Having a library card was a ticket to worlds far beyond my young reach. Local librarians of that era grew to know kids who came once a week to take out the 10-book limit. The librarian often had something put away, knowing the kid’s tastes. That librarian didn’t have mine data to form suggestions…she knew the kid.

So, what about libraries today and in the future? As futurist Thomas Frey points out, “Books are a technology, and writing is also a technology, and every technology has a limited lifespan.” So, will libraries go the way of the dodo with printed books? Au contraire!

Today, the format for the modern communication of information includes and will eventually be dominated by digital material and libraries are now fitted with computers and printers. The public uses them all day long and people who can’t afford a computer or wi-fi have complete access to digital hardware. Library e-media (electronic media) includes books, music, movies, courses, and more.

Libraries are also more active than ever and have become community cultural centers. Library space is used by the community to produce all kinds of experiences for the public.

Topanga Library has supported the Topanga Actors Company, allowing it to present staged readings of modern plays and lots of locals use the space for intellectual, educational, cultural, and social projects.

If you go to or, prepare to be blown away by what is offered. You can get your high school diploma, live homework help, parenting skills, online classes, language classes, adult education classes, and test preparation. You can find job-seeking resources and events, resume and interview training, citizenship preparation and access to legal resources for New Americans.

The Los Angeles Public Library’s Money Matter$ Guide offers library and online resources that provide information, education, and tools covering savings, credit, investments, budgeting, financial planning, and consumer protection.

Libraries offer resources on health topics from juicing to the latest in treatment of diseases. In the library itself, there are workshops, panels and screenings, stable-living programs that help people find housing, food, work, and other public services, and programs for Americans with Disabilities, including television magnifiers that enlarge print up to 60 times.

Writing about future libraries, futurist Thomas Frey foresees some big changes. He sees smaller, more focused satellite branches called Electronic Outposts. Some would be small and homey, maybe including a fireplace and comfy, overstuffed chairs, where users could download books or browse e-magazines. Others may be more industrial spaces. A new vocabulary word to add to our modern lexicon is “makerspaces,” aka community centers with tools or collaborative workspaces in a school, library, public or private facility. Here, people can collaboratively teach, think, create, share, and grow. Projects might include 3D printing, sewing, cooking, coding and programming, video game development, imagination centers, electronics and circuitry, podcasting, video production, robotics, sculpting or woodworking.

Libraries are an important democratic component of the global networks. With the new technologies, libraries are able to give the most privileged and the most disenfranchised persons contact with the wider world.

In the future, librarians will continue to serve as search experts. Frey says people will not have the time to keep up with the new advances in search technologies. “Search technologies are destined to become the heart and soul of future libraries,” he says.

Librarians will not just search for texts; they will search for sounds, smells, textures, tastes, reflectivity, tone, opacity, speed, and volume. Chefs have used advanced search technologies to rediscover certain smells and tastes without having to rake through endless ingredients and recipes. David Pescovitz, research director at the Institute for the Future, suggests, “In such a library you could ‘check out’ the experience of going to another planet or inhabiting the mind of the family dog.”

Frey predicts books will transition from a product to an experience. “Where once a customer would passively read and, hopefully, absorb a book, every volume now is more akin to a (global) online forum, with authors, experts, and other readers available to discuss and answer questions on almost every important book ever written.”

Libraries are an important democratic component of the global networks. With the new technologies, libraries are able to give the most privileged and the most disenfranchised persons contact with the wider world.

Libraries, however, remain, essentially, local. Today, according to the Places Journal, on the non-tech side, libraries are asked to be “ keepers of the homeless while simultaneously offering latch-key children a safe and activity-filled haven. They are also asked to be voter-registration sites, warming stations, notaries, technology-terrorism watchdogs, senior social-gathering centers, election monitors, and substitute sitters during teacher strikes.”

That’s a lot for a librarian to handle. But don’t you know? Many a local librarian still knows a regular kid and still has some good recommendations for them.

-Vamos a ver!

Paula LaBrot

Paula LaBrot is a 30-year resident of Topanga, a futurist with a special interest in the uncharted waters of cyberspace.

  1. Hooray! I’ve been waiting from this article from the enthusiastic and erudite Paula LaBrot. Thank you for a thoughtful piece on the present and future of libraries!

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