Bodley's Librarian on the Future of Libraries

9 April 2009

sarah_thomas_cl_smallOn 2 April, Oxford University Library Services (OULS) in partnership with Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) hosted a public debate on the subject of ‘Libraries of the Future.’ The debate explored the meaning of information and library provision in these changing times and the effect of technology on the behaviour of both information consumers and service providers.

Sarah Thomas, Bodley’s Librarian and Director of Oxford University Library Services, was among six speakers including Malcolm Read, Executive Secretary - Joint Information Systems Committee; Santiago de la Mora, European Partnerships Lead, Books - Google UK; Robert Darnton, Harvard University Librarian and Peter Murray-Rust, Unilever Centre for Molecular Informatics; Chris Batt OBE, Head of Chris Batt Consulting and Vincent Gillespie, J.R.R. Tolkien Professor of English Literature and Language, University of Oxford.

The videos of the event presentations are now live and can be viewed at

Dr Thomas began the debate with a half-hour presentation. She argued that technology, buildings and services will each play different roles in the libraries of the future, with technology having the greatest transforming mission: ‘The library of the future will be interactive. It will include buildings, books and people but it will be transformed by the way people use technology.’

In a world where the digital access will be the norm for all the libraries, special collections will play a distinctive role. They will rise in importance and will be at the core of library’s unique identity. Outreach activities will also become an ever-increasing component of library activity: ‘Exhibition spaces, readings and master classes are all ways the libraries are kindling the excitement of discovery of the cultural objects in their custody.’Through outreach the libraries will open up their collections to a broader segment of the population ranging from school children to lifelong learners.

Dr Thomas sees the future of the libraries increasingly digital, without dismissing the traditional approach: ‘Libraries are shifting from relying on locally-held, principally text-based collections to the provision of information in a variety of formats. Rumours about the demise of the book are greatly exaggerated, but there is an increasing reliance on digital access.’

She concluded: ‘I think the future of the libraries is bright. Libraries of the future will continue to evolve but they will remain true to a basic value system: the connection of knowledge seekers with the accumulated knowledge of the past for the creation of new knowledge and the advancement of individuals and society.’

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