In the last decade, Libraries have changed more radically than at any other time in their history. The development of new technologies has changed the way people access and retrieve information forever placing the traditional notion of the Library as a place packed with shelf upon shelf of books and people in quiet contemplation in question. Many new Library models that aim to meet the needs of the 21st-century patron are evolving yet the continually changing nature of tech means that the role of the future Library remains undefined.
If you search YouTube for Future Library, you will find many presentations and Ted Talks from Librarians and academics either involved in the development of their Library or in exploring ideas of what the Library may become. Some are looking far into the past for inspiration. Ted Colgrove from the University of Nevada uses the Rennaissance painting of the School of Athens by Raphael to illustrate this comparison. In the School of Athens, you mostly see people – Aristotle, Euclid, Plato, Pythagoras, Socrates and so on engaged in discussion, debate, teaching and quiet contemplation. There are no books in sight (they had not entirely been invented) and few scrolls. Colgrove imagines that the Library of Alexandria would have been much the same with the emphasis on activity and interaction.
His message is that Libraries have always been places where people come together to create and collaborate. Many believe this to be the ideal model for the new Library, a place that not only gives free access to shared resources but also builds community. A place to meet new people, share knowledge, make new things – a bustling marketplace of information and ideas.
Libraries which embrace this concept have experimented with installing FabLabs, Maker Studios and performance spaces embracing new technologies from 3D printing through to drones and turning the library from a place where information is consumed into one where knowledge is produced.
Others question the need for a library as a physical place focusing on the free access to information available to all and imagining the essential role the future librarian could play as an information guide. In this model, there may be no central library or a series of smaller facilities spread out in the community. Alternatively, there may be no space at all, and Librarians will ‘go to the people.’
More whimsical concepts we have come across include proposals where a bar is included in the Library so you can have a nice glass of wine as you read – or if you are feeling very social, take your glass of wine along to a library speed dating night!
Despite the plethora of ideas out there, libraries are still evolving, and we don’t yet have the full picture of what a 21st-century library will be. Now we want to know your ideas of how the future Library or Learning Commons might look and act – are any of the concepts above relevant? Is there something more valuable to NUI Galway that we have missed? Please leave your comments or message us @nuignewlibrary. We are excited to hear what you think!