Will Libraries Become Extinct?

   I know, I know…..this is a whimsical, non-serious question. However if the question is asked differently, we can have some good conversation. Is there anything that libraries currently do: policies, collection decisions, customer interactions, etc…that could jeapordize their very existence? My answer later. 

I do know that the future will bring a constant state of change, of technology shifts and even some extinction that will happen. Ray Kurzweil suggests that the rate of change in the world is accelerating at an exponential pace. I know it sure feels like time is moving pretty quickly.

This is all prompted by Ross Dawson on his blog Trends in the Living Network who wrote regarding the future:  “However the evolution of human society is as much about old things disappearing as new things appearing.”

He shared the Extinction Timeline created jointly by What’s Next and Future Exploration Network – click on the image for the detailed timeline as a pdf (1.2MB).


 For those who want a quick summary of a few of the things that they anticipate will become extinct in coming years:
2009: Mending things
2014: Getting lost
2016: Retirement
2019: Libraries
2020: Copyright
2022: Blogging, Speleeng, The Maldives
2030: Keys
2033: Coins
2036: Petrol engined vehicles
2037: Glaciers
2038: Peace & Quiet
2049: Physical newspapers, Google
Beyond 2050: Uglyness, Nation States, Death

I know the full Extinction Timeline has some whimsical extinction entries like: Sunday lunch and secrets. However the whole concept of predicting extinct things or concepts is intriguing.

OK…..do I believe libraries could be threatened with extinction…..Yes. How could they become extinct?…..by failing to adapt. Adaptation: The change or adjustment to meet new conditions. If any library continues to believe that their mission over the next 10 years  is to be the “place” where people borrow books. I believe that those libraries will be nearly gone.

Do I expect “new conditions” for libraries by 2019? Of course….how about a world of easy access to any kind information, in any place, in instant real time. We won’t need a “place” for that. Do I expect books to be gone…..NO. Do I expect the power of story to be less important….NO. I actually think it will be more important. Those gifted writers who have the ability to inspire, to entertain, to inform and to create new magical worlds will continue to engage us. The stories they weave must somehow get to their audience. However that happens, libraries will be involved.

I believe that libraries will have the opportunity to help the young and old to acquire the skill of “lifelong learning”. Libraries will be the “place” where we can all learn throughout our lives. Libraries can be the place where the new explosion of content and information of all types can be managed and shared.

I also believe libraries can be the central gathering place for their community or neighborhood. I believe libraries of the future will be primarily about “connecting” people to information and “connecting” people to people. The library content and collection will be commercially published materials and also locally created content of all types: fiction, nonfiction, music, performance art, etc… The library will be the community “living room” or “front porch”. That “gathering place” to learn and share and discuss and debate and to live.

Now it’s your turn. Tell us what you think threatens the existence of libraries in the future.


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3 Responses to “Will Libraries Become Extinct?”

  1. Kelley Says:

    I think it’s pretty clear that if libraries don’t do everything they can to make people feel welcome, to make their spaces, programs, collections and staff as accommodating and friendly as possible, we just may be extinct! I think, more than lagging in technology, the negative attitudes and obsessive/controlling personalities of some librarians are what may force libraries into extinction because those people are the obstacles to finding and creating connections in and around libraries. It’s the people that create the connection, and if we can’t begin to be more user-friendly and just plain ol’ KIND and enthusiastic about our patrons, then we’re on our way out.

  2. Brad Fish Says:

    Kelley another very good comment. I agree with you about the “customer service” issue. The retail world went through an evolution regarding what “good” customer service should be more than 20 years ago. Many of the best retail companies spent millions of dollars on staff training and improved service. It may not always feel like you get great service in retail stores. Nowadays, retailers have slashed their payrolls and staff levels are too low to provide great service. Kind of like libraries today. On the otherhand, excellent companies still believe in superior service.

    Just last week – Starbucks closed all their stores for customer service training during normal operating hours. Here is the info:
    “If you traditionally hanker for an early evening Starbucks Co. coffee, you’ll be out of luck Tuesday night.

    That’s because nearly every one of the 7,100 Starbucks locations in the U.S. will be closed from 5:30-9 p.m. local time as baristas learn more about making espresso drinks.

    Officials at the Seattle coffee giant said the training will affect more than 135,000 baristas in the U.S. The training event is “designed to energize partners and transform the customer experience … to provide a renewed focus on espresso standards that will help ensure the exceptional quality of every beverage,” officials said in a statement.”

    Who and where in the library community will make this kind of a commitment to exceptional customer service?

  3. Kelley Says:

    There’s a great article in the Washington Post about ‘The End of Literacy’ and it reminded me of your post here, Brad: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/02/15/AR2008021502898.html

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