Three Trends Shaping the Future of Libraries

Libraries have experienced dramatic changes in the last several years as a result of COVID and other external forces. As librarians look ahead to the future, here are three key trends that will shape their needs going forward.

Libraries have experienced dramatic changes in the last several years as a result of COVID and other external forces. As librarians look ahead to the future, here are three key trends that will shape their needs going forward.

The shift to digital services and delivery models is enhancing access but creating new challenges for libraries.

Libraries were transitioning their collections from print to digital formats even before the pandemic: From FY 2014 to FY 2018, U.S. libraries’ average spending per person on physical materials decreased by 6 percent, while their average per-person spending on electronic materials increased by 31 percent.

The emergence of COVID-19 has greatly accelerated this trend, while also demonstrating the value in transitioning from print to digital resources. As libraries shut their doors early on during the pandemic, patrons could still access electronic materials and online programming remotely — and libraries that had made significant investments in digital content were able to continue providing services with minimal interruption.

Accessing content and services digitally is more convenient for many patrons, and the shift toward digital delivery is likely to continue as libraries look toward the future. Yet, navigating the complex licensing (and tricky economics) of acquiring electronic content and digitizing existing materials isn’t easy.

For instance, libraries need an easy way to administer different licensing agreements and lending policies for various publishers and ebooks. If they digitize their print collections, they’ll need a way to limit the lending of digital files according to best practices in controlled digital lending (CDL) to avoid running afoul of copyright restrictions.

Having the right technologies in place allows libraries to manage these complex processes effectively.

“It’s important for libraries to have an agile [lending] platform,” says Tamar Sharir Beiser, a corporate vice president for Ex Libris. “COVID showed us that libraries can’t plan for every contingency. They must be able to adapt quickly to a changing landscape. We also see many libraries experimenting, seeing what works and iterating as a result. An agile platform positions libraries well to handle many scenarios and make rapid changes as needed.”

Rising expectations are prompting libraries to improve the patron experience.

Rapid advancements in technology are changing consumer expectations: Today’s customers expect more personalized and immediate service than ever before.

According to research by Salesforce, 66 percent of customers expect the companies they interact with to understand their unique needs. Nearly three out of four customers have used multiple channels to start and complete a transaction, and 88 percent expect companies to step up their digital initiatives as a result of the pandemic.

Consumers’ rising expectations are influencing how patrons want to be able to interact with library services as well.

The shift to digital services and delivery models is one way that libraries are responding to changing expectations among patrons. But libraries are also looking for other ways to improve the experience for their users, such as by making it easier to find and check out materials that match users’ needs and interests.

“The ability for users to go to one place and understand what a library has in its collections, or easily request a copy if the library doesn’t own that resource, is critical,” says Asaf Kline, vice president of product management for Ex Libris.

Users want to be able to find what they need quickly and easily from whatever environment they are using, Asaf explains — whether that’s a mobile device or even a learning management system if they’re enrolled in a course. Users also want to receive services in the format of their choosing. The digital platforms that libraries use to manage their operations must be able to support these capabilities.

Budgetary pressures are forcing libraries to become more efficient.

Despite the availability of billions of dollars in emergency relief aid, many public and academic libraries are facing significant budget constraints as the pandemic continues. Yet, budgetary pressures were already a reality for many libraries even before COVID, as the changing landscape for how people get information has forced librarians to justify their value in the age of the Internet.

As librarians are increasingly asked to do more with less, automation will play a key role in helping them achieve this goal. Streamlining workflows using automation and artificial intelligence isn’t just a cost-saving measure; it can also free up librarians to spend more time interacting with patrons and providing other services that demonstrate real value to stakeholders.

“An intelligent platform can take care of mundane tasks so that librarians can focus their time more strategically,” Kline says.

The right technologies can also help librarians make better decisions about where to spend their limited resources, so they get the most impact from their investment. For instance, instead of acquiring books or digital materials that are likely to have a very narrow appeal, would it make more sense to partner with other libraries through a resource-sharing network?

The use of a platform with built-in analytics can help librarians make smarter decisions when evaluating purchases or assessing the impact of programs and services, so they can serve the needs of stakeholders more effectively. “The right platform can help librarians deliver services and resources to patrons as efficiently as possible,” Tamar observes.

Demonstrating value

As the landscape that libraries operate in continues to evolve, librarians will need tools to help them adapt quickly to changing circumstances, serve the needs of patrons more effectively, make better spending decisions and ultimately provide more value for stakeholders.

“Libraries are emerging from the pandemic stronger, more resilient and more pivotal than ever before,” says Yotam Kramer, director of product marketing for Ex Libris. “Now, they must continue to demonstrate their value and prove how essential they are to the communities they serve. The right digital platform can accelerate innovation and keep libraries one step ahead of whatever challenges the future might hold.”

To learn how Ex Libris can help libraries meet these challenges, click here.




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