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Seven Trends Shaping the Future of Libraries

Jeffrey Sackenheim

Advancements in technology—even a global pandemic—haven’t meant the end of libraries. Far from it! Libraries have consistently evolved to keep pace with changing times, while providing a place for learning and community-building.

But what must libraries consider to stay relevant in the communities they serve? In our latest whitepaper, 5,000 Years of Adaptability: The Proud Past and Bright Future of Libraries, our Community Studio experts offer seven trends shaping the future of libraries.

The Lingering Effects of COVID-19

We predict the effects of COVID-19 will continue to be felt for years to come. As such, we’ll see libraries offer ongoing post-pandemic support: providing greater access to computers and the internet, helping students make up for lost ground, and supporting teachers to an even greater extent. Librarians will also become invaluable at assisting community members with applications for government, employment and social services. As our client George Needham, the Director of the Delaware County Public Library system, told us in the spring of 2020: “We’re not first responders, but we’re second responders. We’re there for people to help get them back on their feet after an emergency or an event in their life.”

Outdoor Environments

SHP has already experienced a rise in clients’ interest in thoughtfully and purposefully integrating outdoor spaces into their facilities’ master plans. Take Delaware County Public Library, for instance. That library system’s leadership and stakeholders have placed considerable value in integrating outdoor learning environments for its patrons. With active spaces for little explorers, working and gathering spaces for adults, and distinct experiential spaces for families—and with every possible inch of outdoor space maximized—the project has been both challenging and deeply rewarding.

Immersive and Interactive Environments

We expect libraries to continue implementing interactive environments into their design plans. Opportunities abound, from dedicated online gaming lounges to virtual and augmented reality zones, podcasting and video production labs, to makerspaces equipped with a wide selection of tools, materials and technologies. These hands-on spaces will encourage visitors to do something, even if it’s in a virtual world of their own choosing.

Remote Work

Already on the rise before COVID, remote work has exploded. Due to the pandemic, more than 57 percent of small- to midsize businesses now plan to offer remote work options for the long term, while approximately 22 percent of the American workforce will be remote by 2025. We expect the demand for libraries to offer individual workstations and meeting spaces that can double as business conference rooms will increase dramatically in the next five years.

Dollars and Sense

There’s one ongoing challenge nearly all libraries face: funding. Increasingly, libraries will rely on both public and private support, and that means it will be more important than ever to make strategic, community-supported decisions with every dollar raised. That’s one reason SHP advocates loudly and proudly for district-wide master planning,

Collaboration—Local to Global

Libraries are in the unique position of offering amazing opportunities when they use their resources to collaborate in real-time. That could be as simple as helping local schools identify and gain access to noted experts who can support their curriculum, to pooling resources with neighboring systems to sponsor an online conversation with some of the biggest authors in the world. The possibilities are endless when the metaphorical walls come down.

Infrastructure Investments

Even with a full return to in-person service, we anticipate the next several years will bring a greater investment in infrastructure to support increased digital lending, online content and virtual programming efforts. Libraries will need to implement cutting-edge internet bandwidth, Wi-Fi access, production technology, A/V, lighting and acoustics necessary for virtual reality, online learning and hosting, recording and broadcasting events.

As one of the grandest public institutions in the United States, and one where everyone is welcome, libraries provide invaluable opportunities for lifelong learning, self-discovery and human connection. From clay tablets to digital tablets, libraries have survived for nearly 5,000 years thanks to their incredible ability to adapt. At SHP, we’re eager to help libraries prepare for—and make the most of—whatever the future holds.

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