The 21st Century Library

We have observed many times the significant changes in the library—and librarians—since the advent of the internet. For a comprehensive view of where things stand right now, and with specific examples, please have a look at this article by Shannon Najmabadi, in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

If you are unable to access the content for free, it may be worth a trip to your, um … library to read the hard copy or paid online subscription, especially if you are in the profession.

Examples used in the piece are from universities, but you should be able to form a good sketch of changes in infrastructure (with books moved away and stored elsewhere) and how current and future librarians do their jobs. For instance, DePaul University’s library employs staff members with titles like Wikipedian in Residence and Assessment and Marketing Librarian, the article reports. That first one is a gem.

It appears the model most educators, including librarians, will find most attractive is for the library to transform into a hub of activity in ways that benefit everyone, not just students looking for research information. If your library houses the college’s tutoring center that’s a step in this direction. Likewise with rooms for meetings. You will undoubtedly see that other components of your campus (such as the Student Union) may also want to provide such space, and much will depend upon the usual factors of available square footage and financial resources.

Some colleges have abandoned the term “library” in favor of “learning resource center,” but this movement seems to have slowed over the years.

An interesting passage from the piece:

A survey published in April by Ithaka S+R, a research-and-consulting service, found that library directors feel increasingly less valued by senior academic leadership and less involved with decisions on their campuses. Only one-fifth of respondents said their institution’s budget demonstrated a recognition of the library’s value. And while librarians reported being deeply committed to student success, they struggled to articulate what exactly their contributions are.


But librarians haven’t just been passive observers of decline. Though some cottoned to the internet more quickly than others, most have now re-envisioned both their collections and their roles.

Libraries have reported spending less on print materials and more on electronic resources, including online journals and databases. Providing instruction to undergraduates and giving students a space to collaborate were broadly deemed core purposes of libraries in the previous iteration of the survey, published in 2014, as well as in the new report.