Monthly Discussion: The future of the profession

The-Library-of-the-Future-Is-web (CC) by Calgary New Central Library

The-Library-of-the-Future-Is-web (CC) by Calgary New Central Library

As volunteer-run organisation, ILN is full of people from different parts of the library industry. As well as being Program Coordinators for ILN, we all play a number of roles in libraries as do our Country Coordinators. This month’s discussion topic has been inspired by one of our coordinators, Alyson Dalby, who amongst her other roles is a Director for the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA).

ALIA are currently running a project which is designed to stimulate a discussion about the future of the profession. They’ve created a discussion paper and have a series of workshops planned around Australia for the latter half of the year. The discussion proposes a few interesting scenarios for the year 2025, including the following:

  • Public library services are networked across whole states, with a national service model on the horizon. While electronic material (e.g. ebooks, movies, games) is available for loan, catalogue records contain simple links to purchase material not immediately available. Some online content attracts fees. The work of library staff has moved away from collection development and maintenance, and towards programs and events. Teaching and facilitation skills are in high demand.
  • University and TAFE (Technical and Further Education) libraries have become the conduit through which students access and even purchase etextbooks. Physical collections have shrunk and patron-driven acquisition guides most purchasing decisions. Excellent research skills remain in high demand.
  • School libraries will be staffed by teacher librarians working for local networks, serving multiple schools and using a roving model. The school spaces are increasingly used as community spaces, and school libraries overlap significantly with public libraries.

I find this to be an interesting exercise. I have a number of reactions to what I read, including questioning whether using sector-based predictions is the best model. Some of the ideas in the paper excite me – I like the convergence theme, because I love the idea of the lines between professions, sectors and roles being porous. But I also wonder what impact this has on our ability to define and recognise the profession. Will librarianship still be a profession, or just a job for people that have a certain set of skills? Is that a bad thing?

What do you think the profession in your country will look like in 2025? We’ve all heard both dire and rose-tinted predictions about the future of our profession, and the chances are that the extremities are unlikely. But I think it’s really important that we don’t sit back and let our professional future happen to us. I think we, as a profession, can create a shared and varied vision of our future, and then look for ways to make it happen.

Alyson Dalby

Australia is not the only country debating these issues, we’ve found examples from The Arts Council in the UK , the American Library Association (ALA) for Public Libraries, a joint UK project for Academic Libraries, and one from British Columbia.

So our discussion topics for you this month are:

  • What is your vision of our future?
  • What can we, as individuals, organisations and associations, do to create this future?
  • Is this conversation happening in your country? Share links on the topic with us in the comments area below.
  • Is the vision for the future different for different kinds of libraries?
  • What will your library be doing in 2020? 2030?

Share your thoughts in the comments below, or join the discussion on twitter, using #interlibnet so others can follow along.


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  2. I think the future of the profession is totally dependent on us. We need to stay ahead, and pave the way for a new librarianship. We can’t expect things to stay the same!

    • A great point Karen. It’s also important to figure out how to turn thought and strategy into action. To borrow a cliche – “Be the change you want to see”

    • I agree to you Karen, but I think that we are not the only ones who are responsible for the way how it will be. Libraries are created by librarians and READERS. They are the most important reason why there are libraries. So we are 50% responsible and the other half depends on a reader – what he will choose, what he will NEED.

  3. The Victorian Public Library Network through a Statewide Development Project have just launched Victorian Public Libraries 2030 Strategic Framework. Stephen Tighe from Chasing Sunrises has worked with PLVN and the State Library of Victoria to bring together an excellent look into the future, forecasting where libraries may seem themselves positioned. The full report and/or summary report can be downloaded from

  4. The Australian scenario that Alyson has sketched is certainly interesting and exciting, but it seems to me very much based on what is possible and desirable in very wealthy countries. Here in South Africa we have some excellent libraries, the leaders of which are also seizing the possibilities offered by the latest technology. But over the last five years we have had 15 public/community libraries burnt down in poor communities, during protests about municipal corruption and mismanagement. Similar events have occurred in France and recently I heard that there was such an incident in Sweden as well (but I have not been able to find information about it.)

    What this tells me is that the library profession of the future — at least in some countries — still has a lot of thinking to do about how libraries and librarians relate to their communities. What roles do we play? What roles should we play? Are librarians, as relatively well educated people with a middle class lifestyle (at least in comparison with poor community members), really able to relate to their communities? Whose side should libraries be on – are libraries agencies that support and entrench the status quo of a neoliberal consumer society, or should they be agencies of liberation?

    In the past our focus was on collections — building and cataloguing the collections on which we based our prestige. It is good that the focus has shifted. But today much of our thinking about the future of libraries seems to be driven by technology. It will be important not to get too seduced by the wonders of technology. We need to reflect also on our values as a profession and on how we can place communities and individuals, with their struggles for freedom and development, centrally in our planning.

    • Thank you for sharing these examples Peter. When looking for other examples of this kind of future planning I did noticed that many of the examples we found were only from comparatively wealthy countries. I imagine it must be very difficult to plan for the future when you can’t be certain what tomorrow will bring. May I ask what happened to the communities who lost their libraries?

      I think the point you make about the need for libraries to focus their planning around the needs of our local communities is very important. I would like to see more linkages being made between these kinds of reports and the planning happening in these localities for expected population growth/declines and changes in the local communities. For example if data indicates an area has an increasing aging population how could a library plan to adjust their services to support that community.


  5. I’ve been trying to think what to write on this subject. In Greece, I’m afraid that libraries are one step behind, trying to keep up with the evolution of their role. Unfortunately, many of them struggle for their survival, between funding cuts, personnel lay-offs and lack of state policy. If I write something on the future of our profession it would me more of a wish and less of a prediction or an educated guess. I certainly think that we have to reevaluate our role, keep up with the changes in the information field. We need to focus in information literacy, internet safety, services that are even more oriented to patrons and less to collection management. We really need to include more digital content in our collections and solve the issues related to open access. I’m sorry to admit that in Greece digitally produced content is not yet the rule. We need more e-books published and we really need law changes in order to overcome the e-lending restrictions. Things that are taken for granted elsewhere are not yet solved in Greece and as long as the economic crisis remains as fierce, I’m afraid that won’t be solved easily. Greek government has never seen the opportunities deriving from libraries and the fact that librarians are the ones that can contribute to economic growth (and that is why they rarely provided the necessary funds). Libraries (especially public ones) and library professionals fight for their “survival”, therefore, I couldn’t risk any predictions (because even if we change there may be no libraries, collections or organizations left to work for. It’s a really big issue to analyze within a comment.

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