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Friends of the Libraries: We must evolve to stay relevant

September 20, 2012|By Mary Ellen Goddard

While on vacation in England several years ago, my husband and I had a regular practice of finding the library in each town where we were supposed to have ancestors and using their local history sections to find out more about the people who were there several hundred years ago.

We occasionally used their computers and Internet connections for email when there was no accommodation for this at our lodgings. The librarians were always most helpful, like those we are used to in Costa Mesa.

This perhaps made me more interested when I ran across the article "21st Century Libraries: Changing Forms, Changing Futures" by Ken Worpole in a study of Great Britain's libraries. Surprise, surprise.

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The English have the same concerns about libraries and their future that we do.

Worpole asks "What is a library?" discusses social and demographic trends driving changes in library futures, talks about how this contributed to the design and ethos of a library, and then he comes up with some very different "future library scenarios." You might like to look it up — on the Internet, of course. It was published in about 2003.

Of course, much of what Worpole said corresponds closely with what other library officials are saying.

"There is no doubt that the future success of libraries depends on an ability to change and evolve to meet changing ways people access and use information," Susan H. Hildreth, director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services in Washington, D.C., wrote in a Huffington Post blog post titled, "Libraries succeed by constantly evolving."

Some of this wisdom was followed when the Costa Mesa Library Foundation recommended that a future main library in our town be built with no interior load bearing walls so that the arrangement of rooms, collections, services and activities could be easily changed.

Technology has changed so fast in the past 30 or 40 years that vinyl records are like buggy whips. Computers are not only faster, but can hold an astronomically higher amount of data.

Big floppy disks gave way to smaller disks and now we have something weirdly called a "thumb-drive" to plug information into a computer.

New, faster and more complicated computer software helps us achieve greater publishing of journals, newsletters, books, websites and more. This is only a small part of the changes that have affected all of us, but as purveyors of information, they have drastically affected libraries.

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