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Beginning the Great Transformation

In 1519 Leonardo da Vinci died and left behind one of the world’s largest collections of art comprised of well over 5,000 drawings, sketches, and paintings, the vast majority of which the general public would not become aware of until over 400 years later.

The largest portion of this collection was left in the hands of Francesco Melzi, a trusted assistant and favorite student of Leonardo. Sixty years later when Melzi died in 1579 the collection began a lengthy, and often destructive, journey.

In 1630 a sculptor at the court of the King of Spain by the name of Pompeo Leoni began a very sloppy process of rearranging the collections, sorting the artistic drawings from the technical ones with scientific notations. He split up the original manuscripts, cut and pasted pages and created two separate collections. Some pieces were lost.

In 1637 the collections were donated to Biblioteca Ambrosiana, the library in Milan, where they remained until 1796 when Napoleon Bonaparte ordered the manuscripts to be transferred to Paris. Much of the collection “disappeared” for the next 170 year until it was rediscovered in 1966 in the archives of the National Library of Madrid.

Libraries played a significant role in the preservation of the da Vinci collection and we often wonder about other brilliant people in history who didn’t have libraries to preserve their work. Some we will never know about.

Archive of Information

Throughout history the role of the library was to serve as a storehouse, an archive of manuscripts, art, and important documents. The library was the center of information revered by most because each contained the foundational building blocks of information for all humanity.

In medieval times, books were valuable possessions far too expensive for most people to own. As a result, libraries often turned into a collections of lecterns with books chained to them.

In 1455 Johann Gutenberg unveiled his printing press to the world by printing copies of the Gutenberg Bible. Later Gutenberg had his printing press repossessed by Johann Fust, the man who had financed his work for the previous 10 years. The sons of Johann Fust were largely responsible for a printing revolution that saw over 500,000 books put into circulation before 1500.

A huge turning point in the evolution of libraries was architected by Andrew Carnegie. Between 1883 and 1929 he provided funding for 2,509 libraries, of which 1,689 of them were built in the US.

Leading up to today libraries have consisted of large collections of books and other materials, primarily funded and maintained by cities or other institutions. Collections are often used by people who choose not to, or can not afford to, purchase books for themselves.

But that definition is changing.

Beginning the Transition

We have transitioned from a time where information was scarce and precious to today where information is vast and readily available, and in many cases, free.

People who in the past visited libraries to find specific pieces of information are now able to find that information online. The vast majority of people with specific information needs no longer visit libraries. However, others who read for pleasure as example, still regularly patronize their local library.

Setting the Stage

We have put together ten key trends that are affecting the development of the next generation library. Rest assured that these are not the only trends, but ones that have been selected to give clear insight into the rapidly changing technologies and equally fast changing mindset of library patrons.

Trend #1 – Communication systems are continually changing the way people access information

Communication systems have been rapidly evolving. If you were to construct a trend line beginning with the 1844 invention of the telegraph, you will begin to see the accelerating pace of change: 1876 – telephone, 1877 – phonograph, 1896 – radio, 1935 – fax machine, 1939 – television, 1945 – ENIAC Computer, 1947 – transistor, 1954 – color television, 1961 – laser, 1965 – email, 1973 – cell phone, 1974 – Altair 8800, 1989 – World Wide Web, 1990 – Online Search Engine, 1992 – Web Browser, 1994 – Palm Pilot, 1996 – Google, 1999 – P2P, 2002 – iPod, 2004 – Podcasting.

Certainly there are many more points that can be added to this trend line, but as you think through the direction we’re headed, there is one obvious question to consider. What is the ultimate form of communication, and will we ever get there?

While we are not in a position to know the “ultimate form” of communication, it would be a safe bet that it is not writing and reading books. Books are a technology, and writing is also a technology, and every technology has a limited lifespan.

Trend #2 – All technology ends. All technologies commonly used today will be replaced by something new.

Media formats are continually disappearing. The 8-track tape was replaced by the cassette tape, which in turn was replaced by the CD, which is currently in the process of disappearing altogether.

The telephone industry has gone from the dial phone, to push button phone, to cordless phones, to cell phones, to some sort of universal PDA, cell phone, music player, satellite radio, game machine device that will be totally unrecognizable by today’s standards. Eventually the cell phone device will disappear. We don’t need to see technology to interact with it.

In a similar fashion, every device, tool, piece of hardware, equipment, and technology that we are using today will go away, and be replaced by something else. That something else will be faster, smarter, cheaper, more capable, more durable, work better, and look cooler than anything we have today.

Trend #3 – We haven’t yet reached the ultimate small particle for storage. But soon.

We live in an awkward time where technological advances related to information storage are quite routine and expected. Each new breakthrough barely raises an eyebrow because they happen so often. However, Moore’s Law will not go on indefinitely.

There are physical limits to how small we can make storage particles. Within the coming years, advances will slow and eventually stop altogether as we transition from our grand pursuit of tiny-ness to other areas of information efficiencies such as speed, reliability, and durability.

Once we conquer the ultimate small storage particle, we will be able to set standards – both standards for information and standards for storage. This becomes extremely important as we try to envision the stable information base of the future, and the opportunities for libraries to interact with it and build new and exciting “information experiences”.

But perhaps the most critical component of stabilizing information storage will surround the issues of findability.

Trend #4 – Search Technology will become increasingly more complicated

Many people today think our present day search technology is fairly simple, and it is. But the simple search days are numbered.

The vast majority of today’s search industry is based on text search. Text search is being expanded to cover the various languages of the world and some forms of image, audio, and video search are currently in place. However, next generation search technology will include the ability to search for such attributes as taste, smell, texture, reflectivity, opacity, mass, density, tone, speed, and volume.

As we achieve the ability to conduct more and more complicated searches, the role of the librarian to assist in finding this kind of information also becomes more and more important. People will not have the time and skills necessary to keep up on each new innovation in the search world, and they will need a competent professional to turn to.

Trend #5 – Time compression is changing the lifestyle of library patrons

The spectrum of human need is continually expanding. The paradigm of “need” is changing, evolving, and most importantly, speeding up. Time compression is affecting nearly every aspect of our lives, but as we compress our time, we are also compressing our needs.

People today sleep, on average, two hours less per night than 80 years ago, going from 8.9 hours per night to 6.9 hours. 34% of lunches today are eaten on the run. 66% of young people surf the web & watch TV at the same time. In a recent survey, 43% of the people in our society are having trouble making decisions because of sheer data overload.

Basically, we have more needs faster.

So as the spectrum of human need grows, the opportunities for libraries to meet these needs is also growing. However, “needs” are a moving target, so the library of the future will need to be designed to accommodate the changing needs of its constituency. One of the needs that will be going away is the need to use keyboards.

Trend #6 – Over time we will be transitioning to a verbal society

Keyboards remain as our primary interface between people and electronic information even though inventors have long felt there must be a better way. The days of the keyboard are numbered. As mentioned earlier, all technology ends and soon we will be witnessing the end of the keyboard era.

Dr William Crossman, Founder/Director of the CompSpeak 2050 Institute for the Study of Talking Computers and Oral Cultures, predicts that as we say goodbye to keyboards we will begin the transition to a verbal society. He also predicts that by 2050 literacy will be dead.

While the accuracy of his dates and the wholesale transition from literacy to a verbal society may be debatable, there will undoubtedly be a strong trend towards verbal information. Computers will become more human-like with personalities, traits, and other characteristics that will give us the sense of being in a room with other humans.

Trend #7 – The demand for global information is growing exponentially

Many secrets in tomorrow’s business world lie in the writings of people who did not speak English or any of the other prominent global languages. A company’s ability to do business in a foreign country will be largely dependent upon their ability to understand the culture, society, and systems within which that country operates.

The National Intelligence Council predicts “the globalization of labor markets, and political instability and conflict will fuel a dramatic increase in the global movement of people through 2015 and beyond. Legal and illegal migrants now account for more than 15 percent of the population in more than 50 countries. These numbers will grow substantially and will increase social and political tension and perhaps alter national identities even as they contribute to demographic and economic dynamism.”

Our ability to learn about and understand the cultures of the rest of the world are key to our ability to prepare ourselves for the global societies of the future. At the same time that we learn about global societies, a new era of global systems will begin to emerge.

Trend #8 – The Stage is being set for a new era of Global Systems

Most people don’t think in terms of global systems, but we have many existing systems that have evolved over centuries that now play a significant role in our lives.

Our present global systems include international trade, global sea transportation, the Metric System, global news services, global mail systems, time zones, global air transportation, and global stock trading. Two of the newest global systems include the GPS system and the Internet.

Few people think in terms of global systems and what they represent. But as we move towards more homogenized cultures and societies, the need for creating cross-border systems will also increase.

Examples of future global systems include global accounting standards for publicly traded companies, global intellectual property systems, global tax code, global currency, global ethics standards, and an official earth measurement system. People will begin to develop these new global systems because each one represents a multi-billion dollar opportunity just from the sheer efficiencies created along the way.

Libraries will play a key role in the development of global systems because they will be charged with archiving and disseminating the foundational pieces of information necessary for the new systems to take root. Libraries themselves are a global system representing an anchor point for new systems and new cultures.

Trend #9 – We are transitioning from a product-based economy to an experience based economy

As the world’s population ages and the Baby Boom generation approaches retirement, many of them will begin to shed their belongings to create a more free and mobile lifestyle. Each item that a person owns demands their attention, and the accumulation of physical goods to demonstrate a person’s wealth is rapidly declining in importance. Experience becomes the key.

How would you rate your last library experience? Chances are that you’ve never been asked that question. However, in the future, the patron experience will become a key measurement criteria.

Gone are the days of the solemn book-reading experience in the neighborhood library. Activities will be diverse and varied as a way of presenting and interacting with information in new and unusual formats.

But more importantly, books themselves will transition from a product to an experience. As books change in form from simple “words on a page” to various digital manifestations of the information, future books will be reviewed and evaluated by the experience they create.

Trend #10 – Libraries will transition from a center of information to a center of culture

With the emergence of distributed forms of information the central role of the library as a repository of facts and information is changing. While it is still important to have this kind of resource, it has proven to be a diminishing draw in terms of library traffic.

The notion of becoming a cultural center is an expansive role for the future library. It will not only serve as an information resource, but much more, with the exact mission and goals evolving and changing over time.

A culture-based library is one that taps into the spirit of the community, assessing priorities and providing resources to support the things deemed most important. Modern day cultural centers include museums, theaters, parks, and educational institutions. The library of the future could include all of these, but individual communities will be charged with developing an overall strategy that reflects the identity and personality of its own constituency.

Recommendations for Libraries

Libraries are in a unique position. Since most people have fond memories of their times growing up in libraries, and there are no real “library hater” organizations, most libraries have the luxury of time to reinvent themselves.

The role of a library within a community is changing. The way people interact with the library and the services it offers is also changing. For this reason we have put together a series of recommendations that will allow libraries to arrive at their own best solutions.

  1. Evaluate the library experience. Begin the process of testing patron’s opinions, ideas, thoughts, and figure out how to get at the heart of the things that matter most in your community. Survey both the community at large and the people who walk through the library doors.
  2. Embrace new information technologies. New tech products are being introduced on a daily basis and the vast majority of people are totally lost when it comes to deciding on what to use and what to stay away from. Since no organization has stepped up to take the lead in helping the general public understand the new tech, it becomes a perfect opportunity for libraries. Libraries need to become a resource for as well as the experts in each of the new technologies.
    a. Create a technology advisory board and stay in close communication with them.
    b. Recruit tech savvy members of the community to hold monthly discussion panels where the community at large is invited to join in the discussions.
    c. Develop a guest lecture series on the new technologies.
  3. Preserve the memories of your own communities. While most libraries have become the document archive of their community, the memories of a community span much more than just documents. What did it sound like to drive down Main Street in 1950? What did it smell like to walk into Joe’s Bakery in the early mornings of 1965? Who are the people in these community photos and why were they important? Memories come in many shapes and forms. Don’t let yours disappear.
  4. Experiment with creative spaces so the future role of the library can define itself. Since the role of the library 20 years from now is still a mystery, we recommend that libraries put together creative spaces so staff members, library users, and the community at large can experiment and determine what ideas are drawing attention and getting traction. Some possible uses for these creative spaces include:a. Band practice rooms
    b. Podcasting stations
    c. Blogger stations
    d. Art studios
    e. Recording studios
    f. Video studios
    g. Imagination rooms
    h. Theater-drama practice rooms

We have come a long ways from the time of da Vinci and the time when books were chained to lecterns. But we’ve only scratched the surface of many more changes to come. Writing the definitive history of modern libraries is a work in progress. Our best advice is to enjoy the journey and relish in the wonderment of what tomorrow may bring.


Planning Our Next Generation Libraries

Literacy is a learned skill involving an ability to transform characters on paper into mental concepts and images. Listening to an audio book requires a slightly different skill, but requires the ability to transform audio sounds into mental concepts and images.

The trend in the information world is to make the interface between information and our brains as seamless and as invisible as possible. However, if all we do is download tons of information into our brains, we haven’t accomplished much. Information needs to be relevant, useful, and somehow meaningful. In short, we need to experience it.

So how do we take dry, boring information and turn it into a meaningful experience?


In the team-based business cultures of our working lives, where good service is a minimum and professionalism is a given, businesses are grappling with the experience concept as a way to distinguish themselves? “The service economy, like a houseguest with good manners but too many vacation days, is leaving the scene. It is time for the experience economy” says renowned futurist John Naisbitt.

Stepping up to this challenge, many companies are working to “repackage their products and services in a way to deliver unique experiences.”

An experience is something personally encountered. Hence the popularity of falling in love or riding a rollercoaster. To imagine ourselves creating information experiences requires that we think of customers individually and that we use adaptive methods of problem-solving. Now we have to rise to another level, and it is a potentially chaotic level since it requires attentive interaction with people.

John Naisbitt tells us that “in the experience economy, services are linked together to form memorable events that personally engage the customer.”

As an example, coffee can be bought on a commodity level at any grocery store. On a product level it can be bought in any restaurant. But if you want the real coffee experience, you have to go to Starbucks. If you pay close attention, Starbucks is not in the business of selling coffee. Rather, their primary product is the Starbucks experience.

So if we transition that concept into the information world, how do we go about creating the ultimate information experience? How do we take words on a page, books on a shelf, or digitized bits on a memory stick and create information that has an impact? Another way of asking this is, how do we create informational experiences that are entertaining, timely, pertinent, and fun, and at the same time, meaningful and relevant to our lives?

Libraries are a perfect example of an industry struggling to make this transformation. Long regarded as a “center of information”, libraries find themselves competing with Barnes & Noble and their warm, inviting atmosphere, soft comfortable chairs and in-store coffee shops.

Future libraries have an opportunity to reinvent the information experience. Here are some examples of featured experiences that could be added to a library:

These are just a few of the possibilities for creating a next-generation library.

In many respects, the ultimate information experience at future libraries will be where great ideas happen and people have the tools and facilities to act on those ideas.


The Community Archive

What was your community like in 1950, or for that matter in 1850 or even 1650? What role did your community play during the Civil War? How active was it during the Presidential elections of 1960? What was it’s reaction to the bombing of Pearl Harbor?

We have access to plenty of history books that give us the “official story” of all the major events throughout history. But understanding the intersection of our city, our village, or our community with these earth-changing events has, for the most part, never been captured or preserved.

Is this good or bad? As an information junkie, my desire is to always err on the side of too much information. However, we shouldn’t be placing labels of good or bad, or right or wrong on the situation. It is simply our current state of affairs.

So how important is it that we preserve this information? If we spent millions trying to capture this information, will anyone ever care?

The Essence of Community

One of the most valuable things we can pass on to our children and grandchildren is the gift of perspective. Their ability to put themselves into our shoes 30-50 years ago, even for a moment, gives them a vastly different understanding of the world around us today. We are all influenced by policies and trends, pressures of money and family, cultural norms, and a variety of other factors too tangential to list.

Communities have been built around the intersection of people and ideas, people and money, people and systems, and other forms of human connectedness. There are indeed eight forms of human connectedness that are shaping our communities, and the evolution of these connections in the coming years will have a profound impact.

Community Archive

Libraries have always had a mandate to archive the records of a local community, but it has rarely been pursued with more than passing enthusiasm. Archives of city council meetings and local history books made the cut, but few considered the library to be a good photo or video archive.

Over time, many of the newspapers, radio, and television stations will begin to disappear. As these businesses lose their viability, their storerooms of historical broadcast tapes and documents will need to be preserved. More specifically, every radio broadcast, newspaper, and television broadcast will need to be digitized and archived.

In many situations, enterprising businesses will digitize the information and build revenue streams from the online content. But not always. In these situations, libraries might consider hosting the original collections, and installing the equipment to digitize the information.

Other Forms of Sensory Information

It’s easy to fall into the trap of only thinking about information only as text-based information. But information takes a variety of different forms. Audio, video, and images are the most obvious alternative forms, but many more exist. Here are a few examples as they relate to a community archive:

All of these questions require a variety of different sensory queues in order to understand what the situation was really like. Over time innovators will develop new technologies that will capable of capturing smells, tastes, texture, vibrations, frequencies, pressures, and a variety of other situational attributes.

The Time Capsule Room

Perhaps the most engaging way to create a good community archive is through the development of a “Time Capsule Room” in the library.

Most libraries will find that the Time Capsule Room takes on a personality of its own, as local people begin to participate in populating the spaces. Ideas about what constitutes a Time Capsule Room will vary from city to city, but it is the ability to differentiate, uniqueness of operation, and variety of perspectives that will give a dimension of personality to the library.

While it may hold actual time capsules, hard boxes or containers that say “open on a specific date”, it can also be built around historic milestones, the history of specific families or entities, or community changing events. In some cases the content will only be in digital form, while others may decide to accept historical items and museum-type pieces.

Potentially, this can be a fully volunteer-run operation. The contents will be donated, so the cost of operation will be kept very low.

A few ideas on how to engage the community:

Archiving the information will be relatively easy, but making it usable and easy for people to access is a bit more difficult.

Reading areas and computer terminals are straight forward enough, but some other options may include viewing rooms for videos, listening rooms for old radio broadcasts or audio recordings, or interactive screens that allow people to view changes to the city over time. Photo archives may need to be equipped with face and location recognition software, location-stamped photos, and archival scanners that can date the photos.

It’s easy to see how the Time Capsule Room will add a new dimension to most libraries. Its content will have historical significance, be engaging to the community, and add a unique identity to the library operation. It may even be possible to create a branch library that is specifically a Time Capsule Library, a place reserved for archival activity.

As with other papers in this series, these ideas are intended to spark your imagination and add a new dimension to the list of possibilities.


The Library of the Future Series:
Part 2 – The Search Command Center

As a child, it was embarrassing to ask for help. I didn’t want people to think I was the “dumb student”, and I especially didn’t want to be the one asking dumb questions in a library around people I didn’t know. My assumption was that if I had to ask, I was obviously missing something. Perhaps I should wait until I was older and come back at a time when I was smart enough to understand the library.

My impression was that librarians were incredibly smart, and in an entirely different intellectual league than I was. I felt as if I hadn’t yet earned the right to be there.

While it may sound like I was slightly paranoid, and especially today, knowing that librarians are the world’s most uniquely helpful breed of people, I’m pretty sure this perception still exists among some of us today.


As a way to improve services, the interface between librarians and their patrons needs to be under a constant state of scrutiny, and constantly improving, especially with all of the new technologies changing the information landscape.

People who come to libraries are searching for information. Sometimes it’s an exploratory mission with only vague notions about what they are looking for, at other times patrons have a laser-like precision in their search for specific data points.

Subscription Databases

One thing that is not commonly understood is that libraries have access to resources that most home-based computer researchers do not, including extensive database collections free to their patrons. For the most part, these consist of expensive pay-to-subscribe databases that few individuals can afford.

As an example, indexes of articles from both general publications and academic journals that can be found on the Internet often take users to an abstract summary of an article. The abstract includes publication info, but not the full text. The majority of library databases offer full text access to these articles, so when you find what you are looking for, you can immediately have access to the complete document.

Certainly the number of databases that libraries subscribe to varies tremendously, but many that I’ve looked at recently had a list of well over 100 subscription databases including such information rich services as Factiva, FedStats, General Science Abstracts, Lexis Nexis Academic, PsycArticles, Rand California, ScienceDirect, Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, Physical Education Index, NIST Chemistry WebBook, RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, IEEE Xplore, Institute of Physics E-Journals, Hoover’s Company Records, and ASME Mechanical Engineering.
An even bigger secret is that many libraries allow access to these databases from a remote computer with nothing more than a library card ID number. But only the gifted few are aware these resources exist.

The bottom line is that people can’t use what they don’t know about.

So how do we go about bridging the gap between this treasure trove of resources and an uninformed public? Answer: The search command center.

Search Command Center

In many ways the Search Command Center will replace the tradition card catalog as the first stop in finding information in a library.

The search command center will serve three critical functions:

1. Draw attention to databases, specialized search engines and other available resources
2. Provide expert, hands-on assistance in finding and using the databases
3. Teach patrons how to access this information remotely

From a facility layout perspective, think in terms of a circular bank of computers with a special “search librarian” stationed in the middle. These can be arranged in various ways. If computers face away from the center, it is easy for the librarian to see what the person may be struggling with and offer assistance. If the computers face the librarian, people will be less intimidated and will more readily ask questions.

Whatever the shape or layout, the Search Command Center needs to look distinctive, be clearly labeled, and offer an intuitive sense of purpose and usefulness.

Creating Awareness

The first step in offering a new service is simply creating awareness. Local media will be quick to pick up on this new featured offering at the library. Even though most libraries already offer this kind of assistance, the Search Command Center is a different way of packaging these services, creating a different face to the public.

After a few months in operation, it will be easy to draw attention to stories about local people who have accomplished great things by using the Search Command Center. Often times these will be remarkable people under extraordinary circumstances and the assistance offered at the library becomes a significant turning point in the lives of everyone around them. These stories can quickly serve as the foundational underpinning of the library’s relationship with the community.

Expert Assistance

Since there are a variety of ways that people will want to learn about these services, some of the options to consider should include:

• Training Classes: Short one-hour courses in both accessing specialized databases and how to use expert search engines to find information.
• Panel of Experts: Once a month pull together a question and answer session with 3-4 experts in the front of the room. Invite the public to ask questions and watch the learning unfold.
• Video Tutorials: Some videos on this topic may already exist, but videos are getting cheaper and easier to make. So a few short videos describing the various databases and other unique library collections will become tremendously valuable.
• Quick Reference Cards: A listing of each of the databases and other unique library collections as well as the search technologies available.

Keep in mind that with each person trained on using the Search Command Center, it is a process of training the “influential few”. The numbers may be small to start, but each skilled searcher will become a power user creating ripple effects throughout the community.

Advancing Search Technology

Search engine technology is destined to get far more complicated. Working primarily with information in textual formats, today’s search engines work very well in finding text-based answers for text-based searches.

Future generations of search technology will enable people to search on many other information attributes such as taste, smell, harmonic vibration, texture, reflectivity, specific gravity, as well as various cycles and patterns.

Japanese inventor Yasuo Kuniyoshi recently unveiled his invention, Smart Goggles, a pair of glasses designed to capture and record everything a person sees during a day. Adding a layer of object recognition software to the images being captured creates an interesting base of information, usable on many levels. So, a person who loses their keys can simply have a computer scan through files until it finds where they left their keys.

More impressive than searching for items on an individual level is the notion that Yasuo Kuniyoshi’s device can effectively index the world around us, in a process similar to spidering the web, giving rise to search engines for the physical world. A few hundred thousand people wearing Smart Goggles will be able to create a comprehensive database of information about the physical world unlike anything in existence today.

Establishing Libraries as a Center of Gravity for Search

Search technology is destined to become the heart and soul of future libraries. As the format and structure of information evolves, librarians will need to position themselves as cutting edge information finders, and the Search Command Center is one tool for transitioning to the next level.

The idea of a Search Command Center is one of many new ideas for revitalizing a library. As with other papers in this series, these ideas are intended to spark your imagination and add a new dimension to your list of possibilities.


As a public entity, libraries have been evolving. No longer are they the book-centric institutions of the mid 1900s. But the changes we’ve seen to date are only a tiny fraction of the changes we will see in the coming decades.

There are no road maps that give us a clear picture of where we are headed, only fuzzy ideas. For this reason we will begin to see more and more experimentation in the area of digital libraries, and in this discussion, a version of the digital library I’ve termed the Electronic Outpost.


Traditional books require the bulk of library staff time, with sorting and organizing often coupled with repairs and replacement. As we move to an era of inexpensive book readers (under $20) with improved user interfaces, we will begin to see libraries loaning out book readers instead of the paper books.

An Electronic Outpost is a satellite branch of a central library designed to be an efficiently run community gathering place. Size, shape, and purpose will vary. Some may fit well in shopping centers while others may be better suited to function as stand-alone buildings. Some may be very small, others quite large. Many may be planned with a homey, living room-like feel to them while others go with a more industrial design suited for a business audience.

My hope is that communities will begin to experiment, and that the Electronic Outpost will evolve to serve a different role than that of a traditional branch library.

As cities consider the Electronic Outpost options, we can expect to see a number of unique features mixed and matched to create a library environment closely aligned with the community it serves. Here are a few possible options:

1.) Search Command Center: People who come to libraries are searching for information. Sometimes it’s an exploratory mission with only vague notions about what they are looking for, at other times patrons have a laser-like precision in their search for specific data points. But invariable they will need help, and the Search Command Center is intended to be a central feature for a visitor’s first-contact.

2.) Periodical Section – Reading Room: Magazines and newspapers continue to be the spontaneous information sources for many library visitors. Comfortable overstuffed chairs and a fireplace or two will make this a very attractive place to kick back and recharge your intellectual batteries.

3.) Book Download Center: The downloading of books onto a book reader can happen either remotely or at the library itself. The purpose of a Book Download Center is to draw attention to this offering with some people needing help to do their first download and others asking for recommendations on book readers. Over the next five years, the price of book readers will plummet to under $20, and libraries will need to consider loaning out book readers as well as the downloadable version of the books. Future book readers will come in both audio and visual formats, and will actually be easier to read than traditional books.

4.) Cyber Café: Since many of the visitors will be largely focused on finding an open terminal and getting onto the Internet, it may make sense to design the Electronic Outpost around the look and feel of a casual, yet artsy, cyber-café. With this design, people will be looking for the perfect balance between privacy and inclusion, efficiency and randomness, and purpose and spontaneity. Coffee kiosks and food services, either operating as in-house library services or as adjacent businesses annexed to the library, can serve to complement the casual atmosphere.

5.) Gamer Stations: With games quickly becoming the cultural norm, standard issue in most households, gamer stations can be arranged for individual and group competitions as well as a variety of non-competitive activities. With the changing nature of games, its best to plan this area with flexible spaces that will change often.

6.) Daycare Facilities: Libraries tend to have a unique symbiotic relationship with daycare centers. Because of the strict rules governing daycare operations, pay-for-service daycare are best housed in adjoining facilities with separate staff and management. However, by leveraging library resources and aligning them with the needs of the community, a daycare facility can provide a win-win service to fit the needs of many library users.


7.) Studio Section: Much the same way that books were the dividing point between the haves and have-nots of generations past, today’s primary dividing point is the equipment needed to access, create, and manipulate information. These can range from audio-capture, audio-editing studios; to video-capture, video-editing studios; to virtual world studios; to tele-presence rooms, and more.

8.) Mini-Theater: With the huge amount of effort being directed towards video today, and kids as young as 5-years old as well as great-great grandparents learning how to shoot and edit videos, the missing piece is often a room large enough for a small group to view the final production. Mini-theaters will quickly become a social gathering center with demand growing to fill the available time slots.

As you read through this list of options, many will be seen a bit radical or simply inappropriate for the community that you live in, and that’s okay. The intent here was to stretch your thinking about everything possible in an Electronic Outpost.

Libraries are going through a transition period, and the shape and form of libraries 20 years from now will look radically different than what we see today.

I encourage library leadership teams to experiment with the form, purpose, and substance that make up our friendly neighborhood libraries. As you consider the possibilities, I encourage you to challenge yourself with the question, “How does this improve the library experience?”

After all, libraries are not only about information, they are about ideas. What kind of experience will it take for you to have your next great idea?


Ever since the people of ancient Nineveh began storing and classifying their books nearly 3,000 years ago, libraries have been hallowed and largely unchanging bastions of learning. But in the information age, libraries have been caste with a new identity, and the future is evolving into a very different place.
Ten years ago, as the Internet began to take off, many in the tech elite were predicting the death of the public library. What the critics failed to predict, however, was libraries’ stirring ability to reinvent themselves. Much like plants that flourish with good soil, water and sunshine, libraries have actually begun to thrive in our information-rich environment.
Such is their resurgence that today, libraries are going through an age of rebirth. Intent on making them the crown jewels of the community, cities from Vancouver to Prague are investing heavily in public libraries, producing opulent, multi-story structures equipped with cutting-edge technology. From rather hidebound monuments to knowledge laboratories, libraries are now evolving into interactive research and leisure centers. Yet this change, impressive as it is, is only the beginning.
To see how, let’s step through the doorway of a city library in 2029. In the past, libraries housed seemingly endless miles of shelving stacked with finely printed books, but now only a few remain. In much the same way that living creatures adapt to their surrounding environments, libraries have grown into a bidirectional feeding tube connecting the life-giving digital data streams and the user populations that nourish them. People are no longer satisfied with information flowing one way. They want to participate in it, add their own contributions, and take ownership of it.
Traditional lending has been replaced with downloadable books, which are never out of stock, formatted for electronic tablets and readers. A bigger change, though, has come with the very concept of what a book is. Where once a customer would passively read and, hopefully, absorb a book, every volume now is more akin to an online forum, with authors, experts and other readers available to discuss and answer questions on almost every important book ever written.
In contrast to just a couple of decades before, almost the entire canon of book knowledge has been formatted for computers, making in-depth searches possible for even the most obscure tomes. But with many people now using this service in their homes, libraries have stayed ahead of the curve by installing high-tech spherical displays and holographic imaging that allow users to shift viewing angles and probe individual parts of complex data. Space imaging technologies have also made it possible to search the planets and stars, allowing the swarms of school kids who come here to embark on their own voyages into deep space.
With technology having improved so dramatically, a central feature of this library is the Search Command Center, where a team of experts, both real and virtual, assists with complex searches that now incorporate not just words, but sounds, textures and even smells. While many visitors come here to recapture a fond fragrance or a familiar noise, these searches have more practical applications too. Restaurateurs, for example, are frequent visitors here, using the search tools to rediscover certain smells and tastes without having to rake through endless ingredients and recipes.
And chefs are far from the only people doing business in the library. With the Internet having put increasingly powerful business tools into the hands of individuals, more people are working and operating businesses from home. To such people, the library offers not just a refuge from the isolation of their house, it also provides temporary office space complete with podcast recording studios, conference rooms and editing stations. At the same time, the library has developed into an entrepreneurial zone where business people from various backgrounds coalesce, work together and then disperse in much the same way that film production crews have always done.
Business colonies have become commonplace, forming around common business themes such as gamer colonies, video colonies, photonics colonies, and biotech colonies. In each situation the libraries evolve to meet the needs of the user populations, providing vital services for the colony as well as for the community at large.
Yet perhaps nowhere are libraries’ new found attitudes more manifest than in their surroundings. Long operating in a rather high-minded domain, where many of them viewed market demand as little short of vulgar, libraries today are often situated right in the heart of larger complexes with businesses that complement their services. Crèches offer somewhere to drop off the kids, stationary stores and restaurants tick over with student business, and patrons from fitness centers borrow magazines and audio books from the library to enliven their conditioning routines or stop in to do research on exercise and nutrition.
In our fast-changing world, progress is too often seen as a zero-sum game, where innovation inevitably comes at the expense of the old. Yet libraries are showing that innovation always brings opportunity, too. While retaining its traditional functions, the library of the future will be home to myriad informational experiences, where great ideas happen, and people have the tools and facilities to act on them.

Establishing new relevancy standards amid a sea change of technology options and budget constraints


Traditionally a quiet place for lovers of books to unwind, libraries are a place for serious students to escape to, a treasure trove for aspiring writers – and even a great hiding place from bullies where a kid can find cover among a labyrinth of shelves. They always have been a refuge.
These days libraries are becoming something more than a place to hide out. Only recently did libraries become a bustling resource center for a growing number of jobless. People seeking work and budget-strained families seeking entertainment are now flocking to libraries as never before. That’s the good news.
The not-so-good news: The modern day Carnegies are in short supply because libraries are busting at their well-worn seams.
So what happened? Only yesterday, the tech elite were fervently forecasting the imminent doom of the library. Their contention: Libraries will become irrelevant in a modern world?
Predictors of doom never understood the true nature of libraries. They are more than a stack of books. The remarkable structures and modest converted buildings that are libraries, these institutions are really living, breathing organisms. Much like plants that flourish in fertile soil, water and sunshine, libraries are thriving in an information-rich environment. The newfound popularity will be more than a short-term inconvenience. Libraries are here to stay.


Over the past few years I have visited hundreds of libraries and spoken to many library groups across the country. Common throughout my travels, I have witnessed a vibrant and dynamic relationship between users and available resources. Libraries are moving forward and new roles are emerging. In one of these roles, I witnessed the catalytic connection between people, many in poverty, and their aspirations for the future.

Relevancy is key. Response to needs of constituents is the measure of a good library. Much like Google’s approach to calculating the relevancy of search results to individual search queries, a vibrant library continually assesses offerings and functions and their relevancy to the community.

While declining budgets may scale back expansive thinking, significant change, nevertheless, is on the way.

Atoms vs. Electrons

Although we never think of it this way, there is a war being waged between “atoms” and “electrons.” The world of electrons, which includes all things digital and virtual, is moving exponentially faster than anything that requires manipulating physical materials (atoms).

Products made of wood, plastic, metal, and stone constantly battle for limited resources. The physical world beyond the flowing electrons translating this document and making it readable on your monitor is intensely digital. Sure, the materials make our interaction with digital possible. But, when studied through the lens of bottom-line business executives, atoms are on the losing end.

Physical products require teams of designers and engineers to create and refine them. They require shipping and storing at warehouses. Legions of marketers work on matching supply with demand.

Digital products, on the other hand, place very little strain on natural resources. Missing, too, are shipping containers, warehouses and armies of sales people.

While they may still require designers and programmers to produce a product or service, digital products are invented, created, manipulated and delivered 10,000 times faster than anything requiring the handling of atoms. Needless to say, the electrons are winning the war.

We can see the shifting of talent and jobs happening all around us as people move to where the rich veins of digital opportunities are being mined.

In this battle for commercial superiority, libraries stand alongside knowledge-based industries such as IT, communications, information and web-based services, which are poised to lead our economic recovery.
Diminishing Value of Print

In medieval times, books were valuable possessions far too expensive for most people to own. Libraries that were enjoyed by the non-peasant class were often nothing more than a collection of raised reading tables with hand-crafted books chained to them.
In 1455, Johann Gutenberg unveiled his printing press to the world by printing copies of the Gutenberg Bible. Later Gutenberg had his printing press repossessed by Johann Fust, the man who had financed his work over the previous 10 years. The sons of Johann Fust were largely responsible for a printing revolution that saw over 500,000 books put into circulation before 1500.
Gutenberg and his printing press were largely responsible for taking books out of the hands of the wealthy elite and placing them within reach of common people.
During the past five centuries, the price of books dropped another order of magnitude with mass production presses turning out efficiently spun collections accessible to virtually everyone.
Today, a new level of disruption is knocking down the door of book publishing – the electronic book reader. The Amazon Kindle introduction on November 19, 2007, was greeted with a collective yawn. Too expensive, too large and not well received by critics, it was a flop. However, on February 9, 2009, Amazon introduced the Kindle 2 to a far more receptive marketplace. Still expensive, the product reborn in a sleek and convenient case would bear an interface many are bragging about. And there is now a waiting lust for people wanting one.

Making a somewhat quieter entrance, the Sony Digital Reader and the iRex Iliad came along with different options. Introduction of these products has bolstered the belief that book readers will soon rival print.

That day is coming far quicker than most imagine. This transformation won’t take place over the 500 years it took technology to get to this point. Within five years, book readers will drop to a price around $20 and find their way to that magical status marketers call ubiquitous. Libraries will begin to make the transition to book readers. As we move to an era of inexpensive book readers, we will begin to see libraries loaning out book readers instead of paper books.

Within 10 years the economics will drop out of the publishing industry, and books as we know them–ink on paper–will soon begin to disappear. Bibliophilism, the love and collecting of books, will still consume many, but will involve an ever-diminishing part of our culture.

Books have long created an impressive backdrop for library activities, but those days may be numbered

Books have long created an impressive backdrop for library activities, but those days may be numbered


Electronic Outpost – Libraries without Books

Even before the mass popularity of book readers, libraries will experiment with a version of the digital library I’ve termed the Electronic Outpost. Traditional books require vast amounts of library staff time, with sorting and organizing often coupled with repairs and replacement. So it begs the question, what would a library without books look like?

Think of an Electronic Outpost as a type of library that is designed to inspire the mind, serve as a place for intellectual spontaneity, a safe haven for creative ideas, where visionary thinkers can go for solitude and support. Sometimes they will serve as the branch of an existing public library, other times as a specialty library in support of specific groups or organizations. Size, shape, and purpose will vary.

Some may fit well in shopping centers while others may be better suited to function as stand-alone buildings. A few may be very small, others quite large. Many will be planned with a homey, living room-like feel to them, while others will go with a more eclectic atmosphere to inspire industry-specific thoughts. Electronic Outposts will evolve over time around the core services most relevant to a particular user group.

As communities begin to experiment, the Electronic Outpost will evolve to serve a different role than that of a traditional branch library.

The Emerging Library-Business Relationship

Several major shifts are happening in business, and this will cause a change in the way business will be conducted in the future. Libraries need to pay close attention to these shifts because they signal new frontiers in both opportunity and constituency.

1.) Employment costs are rising. Because of overhead costs associated with hiring people, more and more businesses will work with teams gathered on a project-to-project contract basis.

2.) With the tools available on the Internet, far more power and control is being placed into the hands of the individual.

3.) Fewer businesses require people to physically move to accept a job. Consequently, shifting positions frequently is far less disruptive.

The trend I see is business moving toward a much more organic style of operation where available talent will form around specific projects, and once completed, will disband and form around the next opportunity.

Libraries and information services will become central to the Empire of One style of business and Business Colonies, which I discuss below, will begin to spring up around the country.

Empire of One

The traditional solo business is a one-person practice, most often a professional service well suited for lawyers, accountants, and doctors. However, a new breed of solo business has emerged that allows people to leverage the power of the Internet and control a vast empire from their home office or wherever they happen to be. Across the world, thousands of people are giving birth to what I call an “Empire of One.”

An Empire of One business is a one-person operation (though, sometimes a married couple) with far reaching spheres of influence. Typically the business out-sources everything – information products marketed and sold online, or products manufactured in China or India, sent to a distribution center in the US, with customers in the UK and Brazil. Manufacturing, marketing, bookkeeping, accounting, legal needs, and operations are all outsourced to other businesses around the world.

In addition to product based businesses, other Empire of One models will include coaching and consulting businesses, freelancers, Internet-based businesses, solo practitioners and much more.

Yes, much of this has been done before, but a person’s ability to leverage talent and products across country lines, and still maintain control of a vast and virtual empire is refreshingly new.
The Empire of One business model is one with great appeal to former corporate executives with global contacts and ability to manage far-flung operations remotely.

Over 80 percent of all new startups will be created by this kind of lifestyle entrepreneur – people who’ve gone into business to take more control over their own lives and to build a lifestyle that suits them. Health and happiness have replaced wealth as the new mantra of the mid-life professional. Fifty-seven percent of the work force now insists they will not take on the extra stress associated with greater responsibility even if it means more money.

Once economies improve, middle-age workers searching for meaning and significance in their lives will cause an exponential increase in this type of business in the years ahead.
Business Colonies

Business will become more fluid with talent and projects converging for short periods of time. In the way the movie industry works, where a single movie project will attract camera people, script writers, lighting and sound people, actors, and makeup artists, the Empire of One will attract various skills for temporary assignment. Once the project is complete, team members will disband and form around other projects.

One-person operations involve numerous challenges that not all individuals are equipped to handle. As a support mechanism for their growing numbers, business colonies will begin to form around such diverse industrial sectors as photonics, nanotech, biotech, IT niches and many more.

Often times the colonies will form to support large corporate players in a specific industry. As an example, companies like Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo could easily spawn gamer colonies as a way to drive the development of new games for their consoles.

Over the next few years, experimental colonies will proliferate, testing a variety of operational and support systems. Individual members of the colonies will be drawn to the prospects of steady project flow. Project leads will be attracted to the available talent pools. And host cities will be most interested in generating jobs and employment for their constituencies.

Libraries are a natural partner for business colonies. The need for information services, research assistance, as well as meeting place and work space will form the foundational underpinnings for the library-business colony relationship.

Tools of Production

In his 2006 book The Long Tail, WIRED Magazine Editor Chris Anderson asserted, “When the tools of production are available to everyone, everyone becomes a producer.”

People are no longer satisfied with information flowing one way. They want to participate in it, add their own contributions, and claim a stake.

To accomplish this, libraries need to expand their technical offerings, make themselves tools of production. These tools will allow visitors to transition from readers to writers, from listeners to composers, from television watchers to television producers.

We are in the midst of a new age of experimentation for libraries. While funding may fall short, the outlook could not be brighter for a library full of the creative idea-people who will reshape commerce and business. Here are some examples of new library functions:

  • Podcast Studios: Audio capture and audio editing stations will enable beginners to create podcasts and post them online.
  • Video Studios: The video version of podcasting with video capture and video editing stations. These studios will create their own center of gravity, attracting a wide spectrum of creative people who hope to bring their ideas come to life.
  • Virtual World Stations: With over 400 companies competing in the area of virtual worlds such as Second Life, these emerging alternate realities are where future business will be conducted.
  • Gamer Stations: Even though elitists think of games as parasites sucking the life out of our children’s brains, much learning happens inside these games, and it is a cultural phenomenon that needs to be nurtured.
  • Search Command Center: People who come to libraries are searching for information. Sometimes it’s an exploratory mission with only vague notions about what they are looking for, at other times patrons have a laser-like precision in their search for specific data points. But invariably they will need help, and the Search Command Center is intended to be a central feature for a visitor’s first-contact.
  • Mini-Theater: With the huge amount of effort being directed toward video today, and kids as young as 5-years old as well as great-great grandparents learning how to shoot and edit videos, the missing piece is often a room large enough for a small group to view the final production. Mini-theaters will quickly become a social gathering center with demand growing to fill the available time slots.
  • Cyber Cafe: Many of the visitors will be largely focused on finding an open terminal and getting onto the Internet. This is an opportunity. Libraries may want to adopt the look and feel of a casual, yet artsy, cyber-cafe. With this design, people will be looking for the perfect balance between privacy and inclusion, efficiency and randomness, and purpose and spontaneity. Coffee kiosks and food services, either operating as in-house library services or as adjacent businesses annexed to the library, can serve to complement the casual atmosphere.
  • Daycare Facilities: Libraries tend to have a unique symbiotic relationship with daycare centers. Because of the strict rules governing daycare operations, pay-for-service daycares are best housed off premises with separate staff and management. However, by leveraging library resources and aligning them with the needs of the community, a daycare facility can provide a win-win service to fit the needs of many library users.

Aligning service with need is key. Supporters don’t hesitate to fund things they find important. How do you increase the relevancy of the library service offering?

The ultimate “library of the future” for your community is a home of highly relevant informational experiences, where great ideas are born, and people find tools and facilities to act on their ideas.