How Library Services Are Changing

Libraries are in flux (news flash, I know). New technologies have enabled more mobile and collaborative work patterns; learning is becoming more project-based, experiential, and personalized; and research and scholarship are becoming more specialized, collaborative, data-rich, and varied in their outputs.

To create the overall context for a recent library service design workshop, I pulled together the following broad themes about how library services are changing in response to these trends.  This is surely a partial list but a good starting point.

Services less fixed to place (and places less fixed): Libraries are increasingly offering support virtually through online resources, IM, email, phone, videochat and the like. This will increase and the audience for these services will broaden (by type and geography) as information becomes more accessible. Face to face services will be offered by roving staff that are proactively engaging with customers rather than retreating behind a counter.  The services that will be place-based will be more like concierge services, such as room bookings, on-demand support, meeting facilitation, etc – see my previous post on space and services – for spaces that will be more multi-purpose and user-configurable

Collective, special, and on-demand collections: The services that libraries offer relative to their collections will transform dramatically, driven by resource limitations, new formats/devices, and increased access. The ownership of the collection will move toward more consortia models, complemented by unique special collections and small on-demand collections curated by the library and/or its community.  Just as the formats/media become more diverse, the library will also see many more devices circulating (iPads, Kindles, Laptops, media equipment etc), less books and journals, and less physical media, which will instead be streamed.

Progress through partnerships: Libraries will seek to maintain their relevance on campus and support their users through partnerships, which will in turn, increase traffic/use. Centers for Teaching and Learning, Writing Centers, peer-to-peer learning groups, topical research centers, and IT are among the most likely, along with other groups that support research needs. We’re likely to see more MISO (Merged Information Services Organizations) institutions and this could become the norm for anything smaller than large research universities. Other partners will include incubation space for projects (allocated on a more flexible basis), student services, or other groups that offer research support.  It would be great to see even more surprising combinations as well – wellness centers, lifelong learning programs, and companies with aligned missions.

Research support that balances breadth and depth: Balancing breadth of knowledge (to uncover and answer initial questions) with depth of expertise in a specific subject will be ever more challenging as fields become more specialized and users expect on-demand consultation across a wide spectrum of disciplines, resources, technologies, and languages.  At the same time, research support is needed now more than ever to aid in knowledge navigation to find, authenticate, and relate sources. Increasing library instruction, more virtual support, and partnerships will help meet these needs. In addition, more consultation on intellectual property will be needed as will data support services; for instance, as grants require data management plans and new models of scholarly communication emerge.

A balanced service model: To create a sustainable service model that responds to these changes in place, collections, relationships, and research, each institution will need to find the right balance of extremes in three key areas: (1) What services are self-serve vs. library-assisted vs. library-performed? (2) What services must be offered face-to-face and which can be delivered virtually (and how do these relate)? And (3) how fixed vs. mobile are the services for instance, can they only be obtained in a specific place or requested on-demand anywhere? By thinking about where to situate on these three dimensions, libraries can shape their service model and then design their services – and design how they’ll be assessed and redesigned over time.