Thoughts on the future of libraries

Full title: Thoughts on the future of scientific information infrastructure institutions (formerly known as „Libraries“)

In my keynote at ASpB Conference 2013 in Kiel, I’ve been thinking about the future of libraries – based on the recently published 10 theses on the future profile of scientific information infrastructure institutions by Klaus Tochtermann. I published my main thoughts here in my blog some months ago, and I decided to translate them for my English speaking audience.

Where leads the future of academic libraries? On this issue, I have set up eight theses:

1 External developments will determine the future of libraries significantly

In society, politics, science, technology, radical transformations take place, on which libraries can’t exert any influence. However, these developments define the framework for libraries significantly. It is important to accept this as a fact and analyze where there are the risks and opportunities. Without claiming to be exhaustive, the following trends can be mentioned:

  • Level society: mobility, media consumption, use of information
  • Level policy: law (data protection, copyright); Finance, demand for efficiency, professional management, return on investment (ROI)
  • Level Science: Publication, ranking, impact; Access to and use of information, mobility, interdisciplinary research, internationalization, communication, collaboration
  • Level technology: cloud computing, mobile usage, Web 2.0, Semantic Web, including LOD, search engines, storage, digital identity, NFC, Wearable Devices, 3D printing etc.

What does this mean for libraries?

2 Electronic information services are delivered on a national or even international level

IT – based services are location independent not only in usage, but also in the provision. Due to the internationalization of research and mobility of researchers there are asked not local but national services. If researchers and students change university they too often lose today access to (electronic) resources that they previously used for their work. The proximity or distance to the provider of an electronic service is irrelevant. This also applies to access to e-resources: there should be a shift from university licenses towards national licenses and open access. In teaching, one seeks a so-called e-portfolio so that electronic study materials remain available on long term. This is based on a university -wide identity management, to which the libraries also will join with its user administration.

3 Libraries join forces: concentration, cooperation

Some libraries are overwhelmed by the more and more highly complex technical solutions. Today, however, many libraries are still trying to hold onto as many fields as possible and offer often a wide range of services. These correspond then often not to the state of the art, as the users know it from commercial suppliers – and how they expect it from the library. However, politics are no longer willing to finance the actual duplication (there is sometimes a conflict with the interests of the local ownership of the libraries, the universities). This desire for centralization is shown, for example, in the recommendations and calls by the German Science Council (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft) or the Swiss University Rectors‘ Conference (Program Scientific Information). Objective of this program is the establishment of national services in the field of scientific information infrastructure. Libraries still have some difficulties with this claim. But the future information infrastructure service providers need not necessarily be libraries. Libraries must cooperate more closely than ever to be able to play the role of the provider of national services. I ‘ve got in mind the establishment of competence centers and consortia to which skills and resources are transferred. Simultaneously, libraries will focus on those services that they can provide better than others. And they will get the other services from centers of excellence, consortia, or commercial providers. The necessary allocation of resources will not be easy in federal structures .

4 Library as a place detaches from e-services

The function of the library as a provider of e-services for science unravels from that as a place of learning, study and research. Both are important, but there is no causal relationship between the two types of services. The role of the library as a (third) place will become even more important because of the virtualization and digitization: It takes learning and working spaces, places to stay and for social exchange as well as on-site services for researchers, students and teachers, such as reference, advice or services in the context of information literacy. This includes new roles and responsibilities for librarians, such as embedded or liaison librarians.

Furthermore, a significant number of e-services are still delivered locally. I am thinking of targeted adjustments and personalization of services offered centrally (see point 8) . Also digitization builds on local holdings and collections. Here the library as a content provider goes into action. It is crucial that the digitized content is delivered via open interfaces so that they can be found and accessed through portals.

5 Library services are oriented towards subject areas

The scientific information services are oriented towards subject areas and not towards individual universities. Depending on the subject area, there exist very different methods and information needs. Researchers of a certain field have more in common than researchers of one university. Therefore, it makes more sense to align the offers according to the needs of the researchers of a certain research field. Libraries will therefore develop topic specific services and they will operate and specialize – how this is shown actually in the field of virtual research environments.

6 Libraries are in competition with commercial information service providers

Not only libraries, but also commercial providers (publishers , aggregators) want to offer researchers complete information services and one stop shops. Already today, there are corresponding services and platforms from commercial providers that act as interactive research platforms for publication of research data and for the connection with research content (eg SpringerLink). However, these platforms are restricted to their own publications. Libraries could according to the desire of researchers develop and offer platforms with content from different publishers. Whereby here, even some of the big players (Web of Science, Scopus) are active. And in order to develop a competitive platform the forces need to be bundled.

7 Libraries expand the scope of collecting and providing information

The boundaries of publication become blurred. Libraries, however, are still strongly focused on monographs, journal volumes, and cataloging them in the OPAC. In future libraries will also catalogue individual items, primary research data and micro-publications and make them available. This content is cross-linked by semantic methods and harnessed through portals.

8 libraries provide personalized services

Libraries know their audiences and their information needs. They adapt centrally provided services so that they meet the needs and desires of their (local) users. The customer or user orientation is a basis. However, it should be extended to the target groups and thus also on the potential users and non-users. Accordingly, not only customers and their satisfaction is evaluated, but also information behavior of the target groups.


Libraries have (too) long dealt with themselves and their own world. But the environment is changing radically. According to this radical innovations and changes are required. Libraries are focus on their strengths and cooperate closely with each other. Libraries are based on the needs of their target groups and offer attractive services locally, based on regional or national services.

Autor: mrudolf

Director of State and University Library Lucerne (Zentral- und Hochschulbibliothek Luzern), former Professor for Library Science at HTW Chur (university of applied sciences), co-editor of Informationspraxis, co-principal investigator of the Horizon Report Library Edition, blogging on library topics - and also on mindful living (in German as Männerherz)

2 Kommentare zu „Thoughts on the future of libraries“

  1. Hi Rudolf
    This is an interesting post. I agree with your conclusion that „Libraries have (too) long dealt with themselves and their own world„.
    I also feel that it can be counter-productive to simply consider the potential benefits of the rapidly -changing technical environment on the future for libraries.
    Last year I took part in the Hyperlinked Library MOOC which, I felt, failed to address the potential risks associated with the continued growth and development of networked services.
    I wrote a series of posts on the potential dangers associated with realisation of the vision for the Library of the Future which are available from my
    archive of my posts for the MOOC..
    I hope this may be of interest.


    Brian Kelly
    Innovation Advocate, Cetis, University of Bolton

  2. Thank you for your reply and the link to your Blog! Seems to be very interesting! I unfortunately missed your Hyperlinked Library MOOC…
    Kind regards

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