by Jim Britell, LTA Board Member

As a trustee of my local library I am learning what the employees jobs entail. Last month I was at the circulation desk learning how books are checked out when a patron asked for help with his email. After some clicking around the screen the clerk said, “Well, your problem is that you haven’t called up your Yahoo account. ” The patron looked up cheerfully and said, “Ok, what’s their phone number?”


Books will hopefully always be the heart of libraries, but non-book-seeking constituencies are growing along with the number of library Internet terminals because people now primarily communicate via the internet and libraries are the only place you can use it for free. An artist of modest means told me recently that without library computers people on restricted budgets like him could not really participate in society. Recent budget cuts surfaced the problem that some jobs require online job applications, and when libraries close the unemployed have no place to submit complete job applications. At the other end of the financial spectrum, most Adirondack summer “camps” have nothing but dial up connections so North Country Libraries see a constant stream of summer residents driving in to download email and update Facebook on our libraries’ superfast broadband connections.


In a recent article, The Future of Libraries, futurist Thomas Frey predicts libraries will become electronic outposts offering digital tools and even working studios. As readers become audio/video composer/producers, libraries need to begin offering access to these “tools of production.” He foresees workspaces with audio/video capture, processing and editing, and blogging and graphic editing stations.


He thinks the business model of the future is the work-at-home entrepreneur and that libraries can become their gathering place – the warm stove for these proliferating freelance service providers, whose coaching and consulting businesses serve a global customer base. These new businesses need individualized learning that is “self-paced, organically generated and available on-demand 24/7”.


In his blog, marketer Seth Godin imagines the staff of our libraries of the future to be data hounds, guides, producers and teachers – the interface between reams of data and untrained but motivated users. The next library will be filled with “so many web terminals there’s always at least one empty” and a place for co-working, coordination and invention. Librarians will bring together domain knowledge, people knowledge and access to information, and take the blame for “any kid who manages to graduate from school without being a first-rate data shark”. Access to data won’t be a distraction from our real purpose, it will be the purpose. The setting will feel like “…the best Brooklyn coffee shop…”


“There are one thousand things that could be done in a place like this, all built around one mission: take the world of data, combine it with the people in this community and create value.”


Or as one of our clerks summed it up recently, “Better put some more outlets in the reading room before somebody’s breaks their neck on all the laptop power cords”.