the digital libraryHow long has it been since you visited a library – the brick-and-mortar variety that is? You might be surprised to find that it more closely resembles an Apple store than the cluttered building with floor-to-ceiling books that we enjoyed as children. Libraries are facing an identity crisis as the need for “buildings full of books” becomes less relevant to our lives.

However, the original premise of the traditional library “shared resources” is still highly relevant – although it is a different set of resources that are critical today. Instead of offering books, periodicals, and microfilm, libraries offer space for work and community activities, a chance to engage with the latest technology from e-readers to 3-D printers, and perhaps even a coffee shop!

The future of the library is not yet fully defined, but the possibilities are infinite it seems. Change is imminent, but what will it look like? Some libraries are moving full speed ahead into the future. When the Digital Commons opened at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, D.C., in July 2013, it featured a 3-D printer with a smart panel design, on-demand book binding machine, dozens of desktops, tables set up for folks bringing their own devices, a Skype station, and a vast co-working space the library calls the “Dream Lab.”

And yes, libraries still have books. But you no longer have to wander through the dusty stacks to find the one you need. The Hunt Library at North Carolina’s State University features 100 group study rooms and technology-equipped spaces to aid learning, research, and collaboration. The library boasts a robot-driven bookBot – an automated book-delivery system that holds up to 2 million volumes in one-ninth of the space of conventional shelving. The bookBot is 50 feet-wide by 160-feet long by 50-feet tall, and it delivers books in minutes through requests placed in the libraries’ online catalog.

But perhaps the Library is not always going to be a “place to come for stuff.” Bill Ptacek, director of the King County Library system in Issaquah, Washington predicts, “In 2020, the public library will be a concept more than a place. The library will be more about what it does for people rather than what it has for people. As society evolves and more content becomes digital, people will access information in different ways.”

What is your prediction for the future of libraries?

Photo credit: Shutterstock