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Friday, April 15, 2011

The Library of the Future

Recently, I was asked to be a judge for a children's essay contest sponsored by a local Councilman, who is a big champion for libraries. The topic of the essay contest was "The Library of the Future," and kids ranging from elementary school to high school were asked to describe how they envision libraries changing, evolving, and improving in the years to come.

This topic is particularly relevant these days, with ebook controversy and the talk of libraries becoming "obsolete" and having our budgets slashed to oblivion despite the fact that our usage is steadily increasing. It seems that when it comes to change, people think librarians feel like this:

It's my hope that this is more false than it is true. Librarians, I feel, actually EMBRACE change. I know so many smart, motivated librarians who are always looking to improve library services by adapting to technological advances and listening to the needs of their patrons. These are the librarians who will help carry libraries into the future.

And we all know who the future belongs to! Yes, as the great Whitney Houston once said, "Crack is whack."

Wait, no. Let me try that again. As the great Whitney Houston once said, "I believe the children are the future." This saccharine line is completely true: kids are future workers, future voters, and future library patrons. The Councilman's essay contest provided me with an opportunity to see how kids view libraries and their role in the community - but more importantly, it let me see that kids see libraries sticking around for a while - they just might look a little different, as you'll see below.

I wish I could share every essay I read, because they were all hilariously brilliant, but here are a few of the quotes I enjoyed. (I couldn't even include all the quotes I wanted to in this post, but trust me, there are some reaaalllly interesting ideas out there.)

What will the library of the future look like?

1) "The future library will be located in a spaceship. The spaceship will have blue tables and purple chairs. The walls of the future library will be green and magenta. Also, the future library will have many skylights."

2) "Libraries will have flying desks and iPads for each person." (Is this in the budget?)

3) "The future library will be open twenty four hours." (I'm not sure, but I THINK this goes against union bylaws.)

4) "The library will have ninety thousand computers. The library will also have a café."

5) "If you have a book that is out of date, it will warp back to the library. It also allows you to warp to other libraries."

6) "Libraries will be floating in the sky. People will have their own planes to get there." 

 7) "As much as I love the library, I’m 100% sure future libraries would be even more awesome. Just think how amazing the library will be in the future, with robots and electronics."

8) "I also believe that there will be robot librarians. But then again a lot of people know that someday robots will take over the world. Also people think that there will be a war of good robots vs bad robots but here is the good part about all this is that the good robots will be teamed up with all of humanity. But earth is a very strong place and can fight with or without human help." (This kid's going to be a sci-fi writer, you wait and see.)

9) (This quote also refers to using robots as librarians): "They will be very cost effective because we will not have to pay them." Thanks, kid!

10) And finally, some sweetness: "The librarians are so friendly, even the shyest person in the world won't be shy anymore." Awww.
At the awards ceremony the other day, each winner got to read his or her essay out loud at one of our library branches (which had just re-opened after three years of being closed for repairs. The community was very happy about that). After hearing what the kids had to say, and seeing the response from the community, I came away from the ceremony feeling optimistic about the future of libraries. (Okay, so, SOME kids want to replace librarians with unpaid robots. Let's try not to let that concern us too much. Most of the kids featured librarians in a positive light in their essays.)

I think the most poignant essay quote I heard that morning was from a third grade girl: 

"What does the future of the library look like? It depends on you." 

She's right. I couldn't have said it better myself. It doesn't matter if she's talking to kids, adults, patrons, politicians, or librarians. We all need to keep working, keep advocating, keep changing, keep growing. We need to work together to bring libraries into the future.

And perhaps most importantly, we need to be ready to fight all these robots who will try to take our jobs.

Okay, maybe I just really kinda want to be Linda Hamilton in T2.


  1. I think the kid from quote #2 has the right idea -- flying desks and iPads for everyone! I look forward to the future.

  2. I don't even have my own iPad! First things first. :)

  3. Haha, this was great! Librarians had better not be replaced with unpaid robots!

  4. Great post, I should have mentioned spaceships when I did own essay on the topic.
    Don't know if I should be glad or scared I am still doing primary school writing assignments :)

  5. I'm with # 8. Robots are someday going to take over the world, and it's not going to be pretty. There's no way I'd want a robot librarian.

  6. The future somehow or other related to technology. Nice article.

  7. ADORABLE. Now to form a committee to make it happen... (lulz)

  8. I thought we were ALREADY unpaid robots.

  9. The overdue books warping back to the library is my favorite. That sure would make things a lot easier.

  10. How old are the kids that wrote these essays? I didn't know what "cost effective" meant until I got to high school...

  11. The ones I read were from elementary school students (at least a couple seemed like they had a hand from mom & dad!)

  12. Tomorrow we have our 5 year planning meeting in our library. I will be showing them your blog and the excerpts from the essays.

    Thank you

  13. Mark, that makes me so happy! I hope the meeting goes well.