Academic journal article Journal of the Medical Library Association

Library as Place: Results of a Delphi Study

Academic journal article Journal of the Medical Library Association

Library as Place: Results of a Delphi Study

Article excerpt

Objective: An expert consensus on the future of the library as place was developed to assist health sciences librarians in designing new library spaces.

Method: An expert panel of health sciences librarians, building consultants, architects, and information technologists was asked to reflect on the likelihood, desirability, timing, and impact on building design of more than seventy possible changes in the use of library space.

Results: An expert consensus predicted that the roles librarians play and the way libraries are used will substantially change. These changes come in response to changes in technology, scholarly communication, learning environments, and the health care economy.

Conclusions: How health sciences library space is used will be far less consistent by 2015, as space becomes more tailored to institutional needs. However, the manner in which health sciences libraries develop and deliver services and collections will drastically change in the next decade. Libraries will continue to exist and will provide support for knowledge management and clinical trials, provide access to digital materials, and play a host of other roles that will enable libraries to emerge as institutional change agents.


In recent years, the library literature has been filled with discussions of the changing nature of library services and spaces. A variety of distinctive trends-including declining gate counts, the rise of Internet search engines, the increasing amount of freely available information on the Web, and changes in student study habits-have caused many to question the future of the librarian's traditional role as organizer and provider of information resources. Librarians ask themselves whether users will still come to the library, whether they will still value the organization that librarians provide in meeting their information needs, and whether the next generation of scholars, scientists, and clinicians will have the information-seeking skills, not to mention the patience, needed to locate quality information.

As a result of articles in the popular press, the question of the future of libraries has captured the attention of many nonlibrary professionals. Articles describing "deserted libraries"-where gate counts and circulation are falling as students find new study spaces in dorm rooms or apartments, coffee shops, or nearby bookstores [1]-have led administrators to question why they should support library construction or renovation. Noting that students, faculty, and the general public now tend to look to the Internet for answers rather than the library [2], administrators ask why librarians are needed. In this environment, funding and designing new buildings is particularly challenging. Capital planners may view libraries as an outdated concept, and even those who agree that libraries will still be needed are uncertain of their future function.

Librarians themselves tend to be much more positive about their futures. In a recent "Panel on the Future of Libraries" [3], library leaders have predicted expanded roles for libraries as places where all members of the community can come together, as repurposed and expanded learning centers, and as places for intellectual pursuits. Citing the rapid growth of poorly organized digital collections, librarians believe that people still need information professionals to assist them. Librarians also point to vast amounts of printed material that still must be preserved and organized; they question the ability of the Web to deliver quality information; and they look askance at the disorganized nature of information on the Internet [4].

Although few of these discussions focus on the physical nature of the future library, some space-related themes do emerge. Libraries, it is thought, will continue to provide group study spaces for individuals to engage in quiet pursuits and spaces for training in the use of information resources. …

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