What will Libraries be like in 2100?
By Jimmie Epling, Director, Darlington County Library System
A couple of months ago, I happened to run across the article “What Will Libraries Be Like in 2100?” (Slate. Nov. 17, 2015 www.slate.com)
There is a fine tradition of prognostication by experts, media pundits, and futurist in this country. In an era of 24/7 news coverage and the regular doubling of information, there is no shortage of those ready to offer their predictions of what will be based on what they know and foresee. As it is traditional to make some predictions for the new year, let me do so for the Darlington County Library System.
But before looking into the future, let’s take a moment to look at what has happened in this past year as the past is sometimes an indicator of the future. The Library had a good year. In addition to continuing to provide what you have come to expect, a number of things were accomplished.
• The Library instituted a strategic plan.
• The Lamar Branch got 1,000 square feet added to the building.
• The Darlington Branch’s interior was renovated and remodeled.
• A record number of children signed up for last year’s summer reading program
• We added nearly three dozen e-magazines to go along with our e-books.
• The Darlington County District Schools partnered with us this summer to allowed all four locations of the Library, Darlington, Hartsville, Lamar, and Society Hill, to become accelerated reader testing sites.
• Hundreds of children’s e-books were added with the Tumble Books Library.
• Over 500 free online classes are now available through Universal Class.
• E-books and e-audio books are now in the Library’s online catalog.
• The Library started a Winter Reading Program.
If you accept that the past activities can be an indicator of the future actions, then you can expect more ideas, insight, inspiration, and innovation from the Library in the coming year. I’m optimistic about the future of the Library.
Generally, a sage can look up to a year into the future and make some fairly good predictions (that is unless the sage is a political pundit forecasting the success of Presidential primary candidates this year). So what might the Library do or offer in 2016?
• Five free workshops for writers and a way they can get their works published online (OK, that was an easy one to predict as the first workshop is already scheduled at the Darlington Branch on January 26th at 6:30 p.m.).
• A Literary Taste of the Pee Dee Book Fair in partnership with Burry Book Store on June 11th in Hartsville (Another easy one as it is in the planning stage).
• Several new public computers in Hartsville (Coming soon!)
• A “What’s New at the Library” type e-mail notification service (An easy way to stay informed!).
• A Children’s Garden at the Darlington Branch (Stop by to learn more).
• The addition to our catalog of the holdings of another organization’s collection (Watch for an official announcement in the next two months).
• Check out wireless hotspots for those without an internet connection at home (Still very much in the planning stage).
• Digital microfilm reader and printer for the South Carolina Room at the Darlington Branch.
The farther we look into the future, the more difficult it becomes to make accurate predictions. Just a few years ago, some futurists were telling all who would listen that as the digital revolution marched on to conquer the world, everyone will switch to e-readers to e-read and that libraries will die out. It seems those predictions were premature as the sale of e-books has been flat over the last two years at about 25% of all sales. What the futurists often miss is that things and institutions can and do change. As an example, the buggy evolved into the horseless carriage and ultimately the cars we have today. Libraries embraced the digital revolution and joined the march forward to help bridge the resulting digital divide. As suggested by the list of accomplishments above, the Library continues to change and move forward.
So what changes may lay ahead for the Library in the years ahead?
• Darlington and Hartsville Branches are renovated and expanded to house new technologies, collections, and meeting spaces.
• Children’s learning spaces created in each location of the Library that use interactive technology to engage children in learning to read. The learning spaces will be similar to those found in museum style interactive exhibits.
• A Society Hill Branch meeting room doubled to create a multi-purpose space.
• A multi-purpose technology room to serve as a job and skill training site for use by companies, various agencies, and educators to improve the county’s workforce.
• Library originated children’s programming available on local access cable channels and the Library’s website.
• An outdoor stage at the Darlington Branch for concerts, outdoor theatrical productions, and other programs.
• Unique collections of objects, tools, technology, etc. that can be loaned.
• Streaming and downloadable video and audio content, such as movies and music.
• Early literacy training programs in cooperation with other agencies designed to make the best use of Library and partner agency resources to reach parents and children.
• Self-check stations and popular materials vending machines at select locations throughout the county.
• A materials delivery service to those not physically able to visit the Library.
Economic, technological, social, and political changes can occur nearly overnight. In a world of rapid change, predicting and planning the future more than three years out is an exercise in educated wish list creation and contingency planning. What will the Library be like in 2100? I predict it will exist. It will not be like what it is today. It will have changed to meet the needs of the community. Beyond these three predictions, your prognostications are likely to be about as good as mine or any futurist’s.
Vist the Library today!