In the future libraries may die, but they will be reborn


The future of libraries is a rich and fascinating topic. It’s over 10 years now since I first gave a keynote on the topic, to an an audience of over 1,200 members of the Australian Libraries and Information Association conference. In 2007 I gained notoriety on the topic when Richard Watson and I put libraries at 2019 in our Extinction Timeline, and have been drawn into strategy sessions with a number of major libraries since then.

Last week The Times (of Ottawa, Illinois) published a piece titled ‘They’ll be reborn’ What does the future hold for libraries?, sparked by discussion of the need for big new library projects in the region.

In the article I am quoted:

Futurist and professional business consultant Ross Dawson foresees most books converted into digital downloads within the next decade, meaning libraries will house less of the printed word.

“Libraries in their current form will cease to exist,” said Dawson, who works from San Francisco and Australia.

That does not mean people will stop coming to them. In fact, he believes the library will become the hub for information.

“They’ll be reborn,”he said.

The physical building will house online computer terminals with access to audio and visuals. Patrons will digest information from large screens geared toward more visual presentations, or read from handheld digital devices small enough to fit in backpacks or pockets. Periodicals and encyclopedias will be stored into databases.

In an environment where stockpiles of information can be integrated into a computer chip and seemingly infinite information is a click away online, patrons will visit libraries to make sense of it all.

“Having too much is worse than not enough,” Dawson said. “Librarians will serve as a guide to resources and help people find relevant information. Filing and validating information will be one of the most important skills of our future.”

Even in that world, however, there is room for printed books. While Dawson believes there will be far less books housed in the library, he understands visually-pleasing books, physical artifacts and other popular books will remain for those who prefer the printed word.

The article somewhat overplays the role I see for physical libraries in information access, as community will shift to the center of their raison d’être. However the librarians of today will certainly have jobs in the future, albeit possibly by different names.

In my large stock of content under development, I have a partially completed visual framework on the life, death, and rebirth of libraries which explains my views on the topic in more detail. I will try to get back to that, as the rebirth of libraries is an increasingly pressing topic.

  • Dear Ross,
    Librarians are a good example of the big shift already in action where ever you look at. Everybody knows their current job will change. I love them as some of them helped me to navigate and discover new authors, books for knowledge or leisure, in this concrete paper world. I am very sad to see them petrified in front of the digital tsunami coming.

    I agree with you their futur role could be as a knowledge hub, a guide, as a local guide is very helpfull when you have only a few days to discover a foreign country. Although more data than a single person could never read is easily available on this single country. There will be too many books tomorrow. It was already the case yesterday. We need guides to navigate into this new ocean. We need guides to find sens. I fill the same about journalists.


  • I take the opportunity of this post about libraries.

    As I have discovered
    recently you were fluent in french 🙂 , I am pleased to be able to show
    you posts of a really great guy, you may know, a ‘master’ of the book
    and digital world, Hubert Guillaud.

    They are not about libraries but bookstores. They are about the fact the big change for them had already begun
    because of non internet reasons “internet didn’t kill bookshops” ( As examples, other sales channels, as supermarkets, were big competitors of little bookshops, and from the readers themselves as they have other interests and type of leasure but still the same amount of attention to share. 

    During your travel in Europe and in France, I can only think meeting this guy would be interesting to share your thoughts about the future.