One of the questions that I'm often asked is "where do you see libraries in 20 years?"
Well, that's a big question with a lot of layers; but I do see the rapid influx of technology making societal impacts on a grand scale. Many of these changes have made their way to the library. So today, I'd like to just touch on digital media. Twenty years ago, people didn't have a device in their pocket with almost instant access to every question. Some people may be reading this on a device we only dreamed of then. Reference books and magazines were much more popular 20 years ago - today they are dropping publication. You couldn't find the answer to a question by just shouting "Hey Alexa," "Hey Google," or "Siri can you tell me..." I remember reading the World Almanac & Guinness Book of World Records every year as a kid so that I could stay up to date on facts.
At the heart of much of this also lies in the way we can control or access what we buy. The "First Sale Doctrine" allows you to buy a copyrighted physical item...let's say a a DVD, music album, or books... and share it with your neighbor or resell it. Libraries have historically operated off of First Sale Doctrine - buying copies of books or accepting donations, and then lending out to our neighbors (you!). Independent used book stores operate off of this doctrine and allow you to buy items at a discount. However, digital content doesn't really fall under First Sale Doctrine. Items you buy online - songs, games, eBooks, etc. are often just leased. This means you cannot always lend them or resell them. Once you cancel your streaming account, you lose all of your content. For libraries, this means that we operate under a whole different ballgame when it comes to digital media with fewer and fewer companies controlling the market. The 501c3 online library Internet Archive has been in litigation with publishers about what this means for you - the consumer and library member.
There is a loss of serendipity with these changes.
Bookstores have a hard time competing, and in turn, smaller or newer authors and musicians get passed over. Search algorithms help you find "what you might like" based on your search history and what you buy online - but also take into account what companies want you to read or watch. Digital news, shows, music, and books are increasingly going up behind paywalls.
My heart truly hopes to see a renaissance where people look up from their devices, and see the world around them. Digital media is definitely a tool, and expanding information access is a great asset! But let's not get caught up in our silos. Serendipity in libraries is a great thing - what have you come across just walking through the stacks or strolling through our neighborhoods?
In 20 years, I see libraries that focus on the hyper-local, and have access to collections that celebrate what makes their community unique as a key to existence. Here in Monterey, we have access to beautiful historical collections that can tell our stories for generations. I hope that legal precedence catches up to digital content so that information access is expanded for all. Digital and physical collections both have a place in out future.
Brian Edwards, Library & Museums Director