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System Director’s Report:

June 2008

The American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference in Anaheim, CA, has something for everyone. More than 21,000 of us, librarians, library staff, students and vendors from around the world are gathered together in the land of Mickey Mouse to talk about libraries. Though we all have our individual reasons for being here, the future of libraries is one topic on everyone’s mind. Not that there is a question among this group that libraries have a future, but most programs include some reference to what services will be offered in the future and what libraries will look like.

On Saturday morning I attended a program from the new ALA Office of Information Technology Policy (OITP), which is part of the ALA Washington Office and is described as “ALA’s Think Tank.” During one part of the program, three well-known library experts—Joan Frye Williams, Stephen Abram and Jose-Marie Griffiths—were asked to offer their thoughts about how they see libraries in 10, 20 or 30 years. Here is some of what they had to say.

  • We will be even more in the ideas business in the future. Even though there will still be books and other library materials, there will be a shift to emphasizing the thought process or experience, with the books being less like a commodity.
  • Our business will be connection to ideas and support of ideas. In the future library, the relationship to any given human is more important, and the relationship to any given information delivery method, etc., is less important.
  • Trust and authenticity are important to relationships, and one of the major assets libraries and librarians have is trust. People trust us more than they trust the Internet and more than government, etc., and this will be even more important in the future.
  • The library of the future will be “A place to do stuff—a kitchen, not a grocery store.” There will a much more emphasis on hospitality, an invitation to explore and create.
  • There will be increased emphasis on wellness. We should position ourselves as “The library—the place to keep your brain alive.” There is money and influence for us in that role.
  • Our value will be even more on our people, not the books. We must have people know us. “Get an identity—Be someone’s favorite librarian.”
  • Libraries will work ever more closely together. We must “throw off our current organization structures” to make that less cumbersome.
  • There will be more librarians that do not work in libraries. We are seeing the start of separation of libraries and librarians.
  • The concept of the library collection is changing and is no longer physically resident in one location. As a result, the future of bibliographic control will change significantly, and there will be more players in the game than just librarians.


That’s probably enough about the long-term future for now. We will talk more about the here and now when we meet. And I will see you on the 14th.