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University Library 2031

Please share your ideas about what university libraries might look like in 20 years and how we are planning and adapting to keep pace.  This information should be limited to one page...

Every summer I have a 90 minute planning meeting with the President & Provost.  It's an opportunity to talk about how the year has gone, but more importantly, to discuss the major priorities for the year to come.  I get a memo every year listing the items I'm supposed to write up (generally in no more than half a page each) to lay the ground for discussion.  Typically they include things like the university scorecards, significant achievements, top priorities, faculty & staff development and the like.  This year, there were a couple of new questions, including the one above.

I had to smile.  Five years is a long time to be planning these days in libraryland -- to predict two decades isn't science fiction, it's fantasy.  But I always enjoy these meetings and this year I've got a new boss who is really putting a lot of good thought into imagining how the libraries ought to be developing.  So I'm looking forward to the meeting, and I like the challenge of trying to distill my fantasizing into one page.

Here's what I wrote:


Twenty years is a long time.  In 1991, when I would try to explain the Internet to people, I would have to show them.  If you hadn’t used a browser, you didn’t have a mental map for what pointing and clicking to move from site to site was like.  The Netscape browser, which made the Internet accessible to anyone with a computer and a dial-up connection, wouldn’t be released until December, 1994.

The consequences of those developments have been huge for academic libraries, and we can expect even more of that over the next two decades.  No doubt, some of what will be the most crucial developments are literally unimaginable from this vantage point.  Nonetheless, one can make some assumptions and speculate about the nature of the academic library based on those assumptions.

  • Most scholarly/educational information will be distributed electronically, although print will continue to be an important niche technology in certain disciplines
  • The form and format of information containers will be radically different, incorporating multi-media and social devices.  The distinction between “e-journals” and “e-books” will have disappeared
  • Much of the required content will be distributed via national or global projects similar to the Google Books project and the Digital Public Library of America
  • Management of locally produced data (“data curation”) will emerge as one of the critical tasks for research universities
  • The “information space” will continue to be very complex and rich, and students and faculty will require training and support in making efficient and effective use of the resources available.


  • “Collection development” as it has been practiced in the past will disappear.  Librarians will focus on managing access to widely distributed information resources, on data curation of locally produced research information, and on organizing and making available locally produced special collections
  • The library building will be student focused as an alternative site for solitary and group study, social interaction, and access to specialized tools and resources.
  • Faculty librarians will spend the majority of their time outside of the library building, participating in curriculum development and teaching, and as members of research teams.

Our space planning focus continues to be making the building a hospitable environment for students.  Our focus on licensing resources is very much usage & request based, so that we can be sure that everything we pay for is being well used.  Our liaison program encourages faculty librarians to spend time interacting directly with faculty and students in the schools that they support.  We will continue to focus our future planning on these areas.


How much of that will actually ring true in 20 years I have no idea.  But in the summer of 2011 it's my one page best guess.




That's a lot in one page!

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