Libraries have a long history of adapting – from the very first primitive libraries, being information warehouses for just the elite, through religious upheaval and great wars, to today’s modern library where technology is prevalent throughout. Today there are 400,000 public libraries around the world. Australia has about 1500 public libraries.

Public libraries are at a turning point. The way we access and consume information has changed dramatically, and this presents major challenges and opportunities for public library systems across the world. Many libraries have made huge progress by adapting to the ongoing needs of communities, reinforcing their key role and importance.

But are they going to stay relevant in the future? How can they continue to be key services as the digital ascendency continues?


Libraries must offer more than just books

Libraries are still hugely popular destinations.  According to data published by The Sydney Morning Herald, about 7.6 million people visited Australian libraries in the 12 months to July 2019 or almost a third of the population. Three-quarters of these people visited at least four times in the year. In comparison, 6.7 million people toured museums and 6.3 million visited art galleries.

Regular visitors expect libraries to continue to provide the services they have provided for many years. But libraries also need to respond quickly to real changes in how people live their lives.

As the World Wide Web becomes the main vehicle for people to get information, the tradition of a building full of hard copy books is less relevant to our modern lives.

On one level digital connections have brought access to library resources to anyone with a computer. Customers can access library services from anywhere, from their homes or from mobile devices. They are able to download books, research materials and other materials. Digital is also transforming the physical environment into different types of spaces. The provision of free Wi-Fi allows libraries to offer customers internet linked support services e.g., learning centres, hot-desking facilities for small businesses and sound studios for creating podcasts.

Woollahra Library at Double Bay was built in 2016 and is a great example of reinvention. Long before the COVID pandemic, they positioned the library as being a community hub, a space for people who wanted to work remotely, freelance workers who wanted to work a couple of days in the library rather than having to go to an office. Woollahra customers have access to fast Wi-Fi, Group Study rooms with an easy way to project from any smart device to the in-house screen, and 3D printing. They can also hire a Tech Room or Events Spaces for their meetings of events. Public computers include iMacs and offer a range of creative software, such as Adobe Creative Cloud and Sibelius Ultimate music notation. The library app gives the customers instant access to popular services such as room or computer bookings, printing and eResources. New community lounge styled study spaces are popular with professionals and students alike, while children enjoy their own zone with an interactive floor, games and even a slide! Prior to this reinvention, they had about 400 users per day who would walk in. Visitors per day jumped to two and a half thousand after this was open because it became so much more relevant to the needs of its community.

In August 2019, the inner-city suburb of Marrickville opened a new $40 AUD million library on the site of an old hospital. It includes an outdoor garden, a cafe and an event room.

Public libraries are important because of the word ‘public’. Public libraries are about more than mere information or ‘content’. Public libraries are places where local people and ideas come together. They are gathering places where people can exchange knowledge, wisdom and insight.

In a US survey of public libraries, 65% of respondents believed that the next generation of libraries should focus more on community and social services — with particular attention on supporting those who didn’t have ready internet access and needed a comfortable, secure environment. A community hub model can offer greater efficiencies for councils and help to raise the profiles of individual services. The pressures on council budgets could be somewhat alleviated from these shared or co-located services.

Libraries and the people who operate and maintain them are now actively rolling out the library of the future, which not only continues to provide access to literature but also has the leading-edge technology to ensure that access is offered to all members of the community. Libraries are now becoming “people-centered not collections centered”.

4 public library trends to watch over the coming years

1. Virtual presence will increase, more downloadable content and online information

2. Destination library trend to continue, local and business services etc. Greater focus on maintaining meeting rooms and specialized spaces

3. Increased profile on social media

4. New job titles to reflect changing needs of customers e.g., experience supervisor, public relations librarian, cybrarian!!

library of the future, To survive in the digital age and stay relevant, public libraries need to be brave and innovative

Libero is actively supporting libraries in developing the library of the future. A library that not only continues to provide access to literature, culture, and a link to a community’s history but also has the latest technology to ensure that access is available to all members of the community.

Libero continuously innovates and improves the system with an eye on the future, ensuring that libraries remain relevant and meet the needs of an ever-evolving society.

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