The Shape of the 21st Century Library

The Shape of the 21st Century Library, by Howard Besser, a LIS professor at UCLA, was a chapter in Information Imagineering: Meeting at the Interface, published by ALA. This paper discusses the rapid evolution of libraries and stresses the importance of librarians\' active, intelligent intervention in the changes that are taking place if librarianship\'s core missions and values are to be preserved. Changes in other institutions, technology trends, disintermediation, and the mission of public libraries are discussed. I think this paper makes a good statement and could be a good discussion piece for the LISNews community... An excerpt here:We need to look at what public libraries are about besides just books, and focus on extending these important parts of the mission into the information age. As many of our tasks get usurped by other bodies, and as we lose much of our clientele, we need to ask ourselves, \"what are public libraries really about? And what would they be about in an age where checking out books was far less important?\"

McClure has outlined a set of \"Public Library Roles\" (McClure 1987) including: community activities center, community information center, formal education support center, independent learning center, popular materials library, preschoolers’ door to learning, reference library, and research center. This set of roles needs to be rethought in an age when physical location and service can be separated from one another; some of these roles are more tied to the library’s physical presence in the community, while others may function very well if delivered from remote sites. For example, it is very possible that public libraries will give up much of their local roles as reference libraries and research centers, having those services provided from central or external sites (perhaps supplemented with a set of locally maintained information or pointers).

This author believes that the four core missions of a public library are: that it is a physical place, that is a focus spot for continuous educational development, that it has a mission to serve the underserved, and that it is a guarantor of public access to information.