As we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Des Moines Public Library, I often think back to how citizens used the library in the late 1800s. At that time, public libraries offered knowledge through a warehouse of books, answers to questions posed to reference librarians, story times for children, and the occasional program for adult patrons.
Throughout the intervening decades, the library has evolved to adapt to new technologies and formats of information. The advance of computers and the internet has brought immediacy of information and helped expand the library’s collection of resources to unparalleled numbers of titles throughout the world. Through the advancement of technology, our role is now more focused on connections. Public libraries connect patrons to information, sources, and titles. In doing so, public library staff are also expanding their expertise to teach the patron how to connect through all of the new forms of technology and channels of communication.
So where will we be 150 years from now? Studies indicate that public libraries will continue to be a trusted source for information and resources. Books will be more readily available on-demand in a variety of formats. This may even include virtual reenactment or holographic imagery! Reference librarians may be available on demand in holographic form at a touch of your smart phone.
The library experience will become more participatory as information is curated in new and interactive ways. Library futurists are already planning the rollout of holodecks that will be available in local public libraries for learning and recreational use. Imagine a virtual world where you can walk the streets of ancient Rome or visit the deck of the Mayfl ower. All that and more will be specifically tailored to the preference or needs of each individual user.
The public library will always be a valued community resource where the public can improve their lives through education, information, and cultural recreation. We have evolved from a warehouse of books 150 years ago to a free, trusted center of empowerment that transforms people’s lives. The future of the public library will be limitless, and it will be wonderful.