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What Will Libraries Be Like in the Future?

by Joseph Moore on 2024-04-17T12:19:50-05:00 | 0 Comments

Librarians are always thinking about how to best utilize their houses of learning. How can the layout be maximized to benefit patrons and staff? Libraries are always balancing what is best for their stakeholders in the present with what will set them up for success in the future. In short, how will they remain relevant to students and the public?

When it comes to libraries stepping into the future, there are two establishments that offer good examples. One is the Hunt Library at N.C. State University in Raleigh, North Carolina, which features a bookBot as a means for repurposing space and preserving books. In Denmark, Dokk1 houses library resources in the same building that offers citizens services and their national TV.

Books: Out of Sight, Out of Mind?

The term "bookBot" makes me think of an android librarian out of an Asimov novel. Thankfully, that's not what's going on at Hunt Library, one of two University libraries at N.C. State University. Most of their printed collection is stored in over 18,000 bins with each bin holding 125-150 books. A huge benefit of this storage method is that it takes up one-ninth the space. The books are also saved from the erosive effects of dust, gravity, and sunlight. 

To retrieve a book from the catalog, a patron first requests the item from the library website (similar to how we request holds here at Dominican). Then the bookBot, which looks like a tall crane on wheels with a small ledge, is activated. The bookBot brings a bin containing the requested item to a workstation.


How the bookBot Works || NC State University Libraries from NC State University Libraries on Vimeo.

At the workstation, a human staff member finds the requested item and brings it to the hold shelf. After email confirmation, the patron can check out the book at the circulation desk. I was surprised to find that there is still significant human involvement in the process. While the bookBot performs most of the leg-work, the patron still receives face-to-face service.

I was able to visit Hunt Library on Spring break, and while it did take some getting used to the lack of book visibility while touring the space, it was interesting to see how the saved space was utilized. There was much more space for students to socialize and collaborate. However, there are still some collections available to browse, such as the Rain Garden Reading Lounge containing faculty publications and the The Quiet Reading Room which has recently printed STEM resources.

A Monument to Learning

As the largest library in Scandinavia, Dokk1 was built as a statement on the future of community learning in 2015. The Dokk1 website describes the structure as "a public space that functions as a culture house...Dokk1 provides a space for communities, contemplation, learning, and play." four-story structure consists largely of transparent glass which allows for a beautiful view of the Aarhus waterfront. Two levels contain collections of printed and digital media resources, exhibitions, a cafe, and a section for children. Two event halls, one large and one small, are used for lectures, small concerts, and film screenings. There are also study spaces, reading areas, and public computers. 

Dokk1 has its own version of a bookBot to sort books returned to the library. This integration of AI into library circulation is becoming more popular in modern libraries, especially ones with highly circulating collections.

There are forward-thinking design aspects of Dokk1 that go beyond AI integration. The library is built to be enjoyed by people of all ages. The features of Dokk1 evolves with what its patrons wish it to be. Part of an effort to re-purpose former industrial areas, the library is a monument to learning, creativity, and sustainability. 

The Future of Libraries

As learning centers, libraries have an important role to fill as places that provide education for a changing society. The role of information-bearers will always be an important one, as writers of science fiction have often pointed out.

As someone who loves cataloging library materials, I find it fascinating that the Hunt Library bookBot accesses books in bins organized by size rather than call number. If this is the future of book storage, will we soon no longer need Library Congress call numbers or the Dewey Decimal System? How long do we have until the information in books is completely divorced from a physical item?

We will always have information, and we will always need people to sort and access it. Personally, I will miss physical books when they are gone. I like to hold a work while I read it. I enjoy browsing the physical stacks, taking fifteen books off the shelf, then checking out five of them. I like taking the books home so I can spend time with them for several weeks. And then I am always glad to have to return them so that I have a reason to go back to my favorite place.

Further Reading:

DeMarco, N. (2023). The future of libraries. Bookriot

Dorner, D., Campbell-Meier, J, & Set, Iva. (2017). Making sense of the future of libraries. IFLA, 43(4), 321-334.

Duxfield, A., & Liew, C.L. (2023). Libraries in contemporary science fiction novels: uncertain futures or embedded in the fabric of society? Journal of Documentation, 79(3), 546-566.

Guran, P. (Ed.). (2017). Ex Libris: Stories of Librarians, Libraries & Lore. Prime Books.

Knudsen, M. (2019). Curse of the Evil Librarian. Candlewick Press.

Morgenstern, E. (2019). The Starless Sea. Doubleday.

Perez-Reverte, A. (2022). El club dumas / The Club Dumas. Harcourt.

Sci-Fi-brarian. (2016, February 27). Representations of Libraries and Librarians in Popular Culture, Particularly Science Fiction and Fantasy. The

Tavosanis, M. (2017). Libraries, linguistics, and artificial intelligence: J.C.R. Licklider and the libraries of the future. IJLIS, 8(2), 137-147.


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