The Future of Libraries

Libraries have been Demco’s business for over 100 years, so preparing for their continual evolution has always been our focus. We like to be proactive instead of reactive. In 2013, we sponsored several events to hear directly from librarians about their vision for the Library of the Future.

Demco’s Branch Out Talks at ALA Chicago

Branch Out Talks

Our first ever Branch Out Talks were well received and provided many lessons for all involved at the 2013 ALA Conference in Chicago. We hosted a series of one-on-ones or small group sessions that were developed around key topics. Outside experts, as well as Demco staff facilitated the discussions.

Based on participant comments, here are some highlights from this exchange of ideas — released for the first time in this Library Insight.

  1. Collaboration and cooperation with civic partners can extend reach and improve relevance.
  2. While libraries are seeking to become “destinations,” it is equally important to take the library “to the people.”
  3. The explosion of electronic devices is placing a high demand on access to power, spaces and other technologies for content creation and sharing.
  4. Undefined, multi–purpose spaces are becoming more popular to test service concepts and host new programs and events, such as user group meetings, networking and fundraisers.
  5. A shift from computers to tablets and the trend of “bring your own devices” (BYOD) are changing the learning landscape and the types of resources patrons access.
  6. Technology has spurred the inclusion of Digital Media Labs and Makerspaces in libraries, causing significant changes in libraries’ experiences and space utilization.

What’s Next Forum

To keep the discussion going, Demco assembled 11 senior library leaders from around the country at the Fountaindale Public Library in Bolingbrook, IL to discuss the Future of Libraries. The two-day event included some engaging exercises to stir meaningful conversations.

To kick the meeting off and get everyone level-set on the issues being explored, we asked library leaders about their ideas on the Typical Library of Today and their Ideal Library of the Future (aka the From-To Exercise). These library leaders delivered, showing images of cool ideas for where libraries may be headed.

Inspirations from our librarians

During the From-To Exercise, the group brainstormed the priorities of today’s library and how they translate into the future. Here are their results.

One of the highlights of the discussion came from Library Director Edra Waterman’s presentation equating the Library of Today to a Blackberry and the Library of Tomorrow to an iPhone® 6.

You can view this short video clip at:

A common thread that ran through all the discussions was a shifting focus from “stuff” to people. As a result, the group found that the library of the future is an experiential one that “moves people” similar to how Disney® does it at their theme parks. Most of the participants said they are looking to European libraries, museums, airports, the Apple® store and Disney for their inspiration as they look to evolve the physical spaces within their libraries.

This new focus on people means that the Library of Tomorrow looks different in every community. The group said they are looking for design partners and product suppliers to take the time to understand the nuances of the communities they serve, share trend insights from other industries and be visionary leaders.

The group said they were frustrated about revisiting old 1960 standards when working with design professionals. They described how these standards were no longer relevant to the ways libraries function in the 21st century. In fact, the group was eager to find new criteria to define how a space is used beyond antiquated ideas about square footage and collection size.

The Bottom Line

The result of these talks wasn’t a set road map for the Library of Tomorrow, but it reinforced the idea that the future is yet to be determined and is filled with possibilities that are both endless and inspiring. We will be continuing these activities into 2014 and will keep you updated on what we find.


Marisa Amara

Marisa Amara

Library Consultant
Marisa works as a consultant on dozens of library space planning and furniture design projects as an associate of Kimberly Bolan and Associates. Her experience includes extensive background in product development, furniture project sales and architect and design market relationship development. This has given Marisa in-depth understanding of libraries, their spaces and the furniture needs.