Volume 28, Number 4, Winter 2006


Shaping Priorities for the Future of Library Systems

By Amanda McKay, Special Projects Coordinator, Illinois Library Systems Directors Organization, and Mary Witt, Assistant Director, North Suburban Library Systems

In August and September 2005, the Illinois Library Systems Directors Organization (ILSDO) surveyed 1,775 librarians across the state of Illinois to gather input on changes in technology and society and how Library Systems could help their members respond to these changes. One of the most interesting things about the survey results was that members from all Systems had very similar issues and concerns, no matter what their size of library or geographic region.

Technology and the Future of Libraries

Generally, awareness of technology was high. Excluding podcasting and RSS, all respondents reported an awareness of technologies such as blogging, Web conferencing, online interactive tutorials, instant messaging, intranets, and text messaging. Though awareness was high, application of these technologies was not widely reported. Only email was in wide use amongst the majority of respondents (89 percent).

Free Internet search engines, such as Google, were seen as the strongest competitor (56 percent of respondents) for libraries while bookstores (traditional and online) were seen as minor competitors.

Social Change and the Future of Libraries

Survey respondents were asked to rate the extent to which various social trends could force them to change their focus or the services they offered. Libraries from all Illinois Library Systems identified the same top three trends in each of the following categories:
  • Population/Demographic Trends
    1. Increasing ethnic/language diversity
    2. Graying of America/aging baby boomers
    3. Increasing poverty levels
  • Government/Political Trends
    1. Opposition to tax increases
    2. Privacy/intellectual freedom policies
    3. Security concerns in public places
  • Business/Economic Trends
    1. Customer expectations for customization/personalization
    2. Marketing emphasis on instant gratification
    3. Overwhelming consumer choice

Library Systems and the Future of Libraries

The final area in which respondents were surveyed was the role of Library Systems. They identified the System services that they valued and used most. They were also asked to identify future scenarios in the library profession that kept them up at night. The services that were most valued included interlibrary loan/resource sharing, delivery, continuing education, opportunities for local/personal networking, and technical support. The future scenario that caused the most concern was that the public did not see the value of libraries.

Follow-up

ILSDO has already started to address a number of the issues that were raised in the survey. Since ethnic/language diversity was the top demographic trend for libraries, ILSDO has continued to educate System staff so that they are better prepared to help their members and so that their members will turn to them for support in this area. Likewise, marketing issues emerged as a major area of need, and so Systems are collaboratively looking for ways they might help libraries show their value to the public. Additionally, since all Library Systems had such similar responses, the potential for addressing some of the other issues through collaborative ventures is very high.

Visit ILSDO for more information about ILSDO and to read the executive summary of the survey.