14 Pages

A Vision of the Library of the 21st Century

WithCharlene S. Hurt

Librarians have been talking about the library of the 21st century as “paperless” and “electronic” for about fifteen years – ever since F.W. Lancaster gave his first talk on the subject. 1 What that library would be like, however, has not always been clear to us. In an effort to clarify our ideas and overcome our fears, in 1986 the librarians of Fenwick Library of George Mason University went on a retreat, determined to return with a description of the “electronic library.” It was the first step in a process we have come to call “imagining the library of the future.” The results of that retreat set the parameters for our planning since then. Excerpts from the definitions we prepared follow:

The electronic library, an information organization that exploits new technology to carry out its mission, is not so much a place as a concept of service. With the growing availability of information in electronic formats rather than in in-house collections, it will be crucial for patrons to go to the librarian, not just to the library, for their information needs.

Public service will demand much of the personnel resources available. With large periodical runs on videodisc, for example, emphasis logically shifts from checking in paper journals, labelling, binding, shelf-reading, etc. to instructing and assisting patrons in utilizing disc players.

8I have little doubt but that advances in computer science and information management will inevitably lead to a virtually paperless world – where the vast majority of library transactions take place within a computerized environment (taking paper form only as a final product and then only infrequently, i.e., a printout).

In planning the electronic library are we also expanding our clientele? Who are we serving with new technology?