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Library service of the future

The staff at my public library are currently thinking about where adult services is heading in the next five years. I had some fun looking around at library blogs and websites yesterday and pondering this.

One thing we don’t do but my last library did is provide text and chat reference. I found information on the Chelmsford Public Library‘s website about QuestionPoint, which provides chat and text tools as well as “a 24/7 Reference Cooperative to provide live around-the-clock reference service.” Libraries around the world participate in the coop, which seems like a cool idea. I wonder how well it works?

Something else I read about in a few different places is “personal shopper” style book recommendations. I’m not sure how different this is from traditional readers’ advisory, but I guess it’s about marketing it in a new way.  As I understand it personal shoppers in stores meet a client, find out their size and style preferences, and then at future appointments they have pulled together items the person might like to buy, thereby saving the shopper time and energy by streamlining their browsing.

I’ve seen some busy patrons who rush in and grab their books from the hold shelf and rush out again. People who don’t feel they have time to browse might enjoy being able to fill out a form outlining their reading history and preferences and be able to check out a “curated” selection of books a librarian has chosen for them. That certainly sounds like a snazzy service.

Another cool thing I’ve read about is unusual lending collections. Hooksett Public Library patrons can check out a telescope (there is a nonprofit, Telescopes for Libraries, devoted to spreading this practice). Various libraries across the country lend cake pans, tools, toys, art, and state park passes (with hammocks). Libraries in several states lend Bi-Fokal Kits, which are “multi-media, multi-sensory resources” designed to help older people share memories.

But I wonder if I am not thinking far enough outside the box? Imagining innovative items to lend or ways to update or repackage existing services is easy. What new things will libraries do? I’m not sure yet (beyond all the dire predictions that we won’t even need to exist), but I look forward to digging around and learning more. If you have opinions about the direction library services to adults should be heading, please leave a comment.


About Deb Baker

Deb Baker is a writer and insatiable reader, and library director at a community college. She muses about library issues at The Nocturnal Librarian ( and blogs about books, reading, and life at bookconscious ( Her family includes two awesome offspring, a husband, and the cat who adopted them. And a crazy rescue kitten.

6 responses to “Library service of the future

  1. I am a big fan of questionpoint. Being able to offer some kind of 24/7 reference service is of interest to patrons- even if most of the time they can’t actually get problems with accounts resolved because unless you have your own staff on a LOT, most of the time patrons are dealing with librarians from outside your institution. However, they can get promised a follow-up from their own librarians, and a lot of the reference questions can be answered by anyone. The cost of participation is very reasonable, especially if there is a statewide collaborative you can join, and there is no repeat NO technical configuration to deal with. You can implement it easily on your library website, there are widgets you can place in various places (allegedly, the library catalog can contain one although I did give up on trying to embed it into a Sirsi system.) I would highly recommend giving it a shot- it also brings your own librarians out of a parochial view of their work because they will have to deal with all kinds of different patrons and learn all kinds of new resources and services offered by other libraries. It can be quite eye-opening, professionally.

  2. One new thing libraries are starting to do are adding media labs. These include things like specialty computer programs, 3-D printers, and video games. Some are also using the learning lab ideas, which incorporate the same items as media labs but also branch out to include things like sewing machines, workshops with tools, and similar costly hobby tools. When I took the required comps for my graduate program last fall, one of our questions focused on incorporating these into libraries. Recently, the Chronicle of Higher Education had an article on the 3-D printers and how some places have labs for these, if you’d like to read it ( .

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