Trends in the Library Profession

Background for OLA's Vision 2010
January 24, 2000 (revised 3/28, 2000)

Executive Summary

The following observations were compiled by Janet Webster (Oregon State University) with input from Deb Carver (University of Oregon), Michael Gaston (Deschutes Public Library District), Jeanne Goodrich (Multnomah County Library), and Liisa Sjoblom (Deschutes Public Library District).

These observations, while not comprehensive, provide an overview of the most pressing and pervasive issues the library profession faces in the coming decade. They are grouped into four familiar areas: collections, copyright, staffing, and services. The challenges of technological changes are a common thread through the four. A bibliography of resource material is included as Appendix A.

Building and Maintaining Collections

"There will be a digital revolution, but the printed book will be an important participant in it." Nunberg in The Future of the Book, 1996

Archiving print and electronic information
Archiving and storage of information continues to be problematic. Academic and public libraries face space concerns as their print collections grow. Consortial agreements can alleviate some storage issues; libraries holding the "last copy" are identified and assigned responsibility. The archiving of digital information poses its unique challenges. How will information be stored? Where will it be stored? Who will be responsible?

To use information in all formats, libraries will have to address preserving the content and the format. This will be especially challenging given the acceleration of new formats -- CD today, DVD tomorrow. The challenge extends from new formats to old ones as well. Small public libraries with rare local material do not have the expertise or time to adequately preserve those items. Larger collections may contain material that are slowly crumbling due to acidic paper and poor environmental conditions. Digitizing collections is expensive, yet holds promise for high use, high interest, and culturally significant materials.

Libraries as content providers and collaborators
Bibliographic information is a mainstay of libraries. That information is now even more valuable as the core data set for web-based catalogues. The development of library web pages will continue to increase as libraries create gateways to their holdings and services. As content providers, we will expand our traditional bibliographic information into the realm of customized resources, online tutorials, and digital collections of unique material.

Increased collaboration among libraries, publishers, software producers, and business opens possibilities for more useful products and systems. An on-going example of this is the development of specialized modules for integrated library systems. The development of open source software program offers the possibility of shared, free systems that are easily modified to suit the needs of users. Collaboration may still lead to a solution for the spirally costs of scientific information. Working with businesses may commercialize library web sites through use of vendor advertising. Libraries will collaborate with corporations and foundations to libraries' technology infrastructure and resource delivery.

Changing formats and new choices
A great deal of public information and scholarly communication is moving from print to electronic format. The technology offers too many advantages: lower cost of reproduction and distribution, ease and speed of access, functionality and flexibility of non-linear, hypertext content, the richness of multimedia products. Today's electronic journal and e-book look very much like the printed versions. As a consequence, libraries are making slight adjustments in their processes and services, but have not dramatically transformed either their internal structure or their role in society. However, we are now seeing efforts that could radically alter the traditional paradigm. For example, there are experiments, such as the PEAK Project, that redefine the established norms of delivering information to students and scholars. Just-in-time publishing can connect the producer directly to the consumer, eliminating the costs of storage, e.g. libraries. The transfer of traditional print material to electronic format will alter the nature of our collections.

Economics of collections
The cost of library resources continues to rise dramatically every year. This unsettling trend affects the future of academic libraries in particular where the collections are the dominant service, and a greater portion of the budget is spent on acquisitions rather than personnel, services, outreach, and special programs for the community. There are several explanations for these increases, including escalating production costs, fluctuating exchange rates, publisher mergers, and unusually high inflation on many foreign titles. Although there is debate over the extent and impact of each one of these elements, few academic libraries have escaped the serious consequences of rising costs, particularly in the areas of electronic resources and scholarly journals. Academic libraries have had no choice but to cancel significant numbers of journal subscriptions and to reduce monographic purchasing, decimating their collections. On the positive side, there is a growing awareness among faculty and leaders in higher education about the dysfunctional nature of this marketplace. On the negative side, this awareness has produced a sense that the entire system of scholarly publication is in danger of collapsing unless there is concerted effort by the academic community to promote less expensive channels for publication, dissemination, and archiving of scholarly research.

Copyright and Privacy

"...the connection between users of the library and knowledge and information is of great benefit to those users and to society as a whole." Gorman in Technical Services Today and Tomorrow, 1998

Gorman's observation hints as the challenge of keeping the connection between user and information open. Copyright, privacy, and authentication and rights management are current as well as future concerns. Increased awareness and concern with copyright and legal problems may be the issue of the next decade rather than coping with technology. Copyright laws work well with print media, but are slow to transfer to the electronic environment. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act, enacted in October 1998, is the latest in a long history of copyright legislation in the United States. Libraries are currently facing copyright issues including limitations within database licensing and unreasonable interlibrary loan requirements. Library users will need to have a new awareness of copyright implications with regards to traditional print and electronic media including the Internet; libraries cannot ignore the issue. However, they also need to aggressively advocate for fair use of all formats if that connection between users and information will remain open and beneficial.

Libraries have not addressed the practical aspects of extending protection of patron confidentiality to their use of the Web and electronic databases. The Web allows more access by more people to more information than ever before in history, but documents and identities are also more malleable than ever before. Libraries are going to have an increasing interest in verifying that you are who you say you are, you do have the right to access this resource, and the resources you are receiving are authentic. This is an area where libraries can differentiate themselves from the commercial sector; we traditionally provide disinterested information with the right of privacy. There is a growing interest in the electronic acquisition of consumer information without the knowledge or consent of the user. Library users should expect the freedom to find information without scrutiny by others.

A different type of privacy issue that will be more difficult is security. Protecting individual privacy can mask potential harm to others in both the physical and the computer environments. Physical security is a familiar challenge to large libraries. Now, libraries of all sizes have a growing awareness of the issue. Computer security including user protection and system protection will be a growing concern. Related to security and the fear of what is "out there" is the call for Internet filtering. Each library will need to address this.

Recruitment, Retention, Training, and Retirement of Library Staff

Library managers will struggle to recruit new staff as library jobs increase, alternative careers in information services expand, and the profession ages. Elizabeth Rothery, Multnomah County Library staff member, found that there will be 25,000 new librarian job openings each year between 1996 and 2006. The pressure will be most intense in the public library sector as employment grows. The academic library sector could be flat or trending down (Frank D'Andraia). Compared to other professions, librarianship contains one-third the number of individuals aged 35 and under, and almost 75% more individuals aged 45 and over. Many libraries project that 75% of professional library staff will be lost over the next fifteen years due to retirements. Based on the current number of library schools and their current enrollments, there won't be enough graduates to fill these positions. And when filled, new hires are often as close to retirement as current staff as 40% of library science graduate students are over 35.

Given this pressure, retaining current staff is desirable. Yet, the core competencies of the librarians and library staff are changing. Library managers will need to work with existing staff to develop their skills while recruiting new staff. This list of desirable, and often mandatory, skills inspires some and overwhelms others.

Personal skills

Technical skills

Leadership skills

Service skills

Libraries will need to promote the differences between the commercial sector and libraries in order to recruit and keep staff. We will also be reevaluating which job duties really require an MLS, and will allocate this increasingly scarce resource judiciously. Gorman's drift down theory will encourage us to identify the jobs more sophisticated machines can do in our libraries. Review of all types of library workers may lead to greater staff diversity, new position descriptions, and different levels of credentials.

Finally, library education must be redesigned to meet the new needs of the library workplace, and promote libraries as workplaces for the future. Library schools need to address practical training as well as developing our intellectual leaders. Library staff will remain the key element in the acquisition of information, by providing expertise in the acquisition, organization and evaluation of information.

Services and Users Expectations

Identifying and addressing the expectations of users
External technology developments such as e-commerce (electronic commerce) and customized marketing concepts will shape our users' expectations of our design and delivery of library services. Those who are Web users expect customization, interactivity, and customer support. Self-sufficiency is expected on the Web, so library users may have a diminished expectation of real time help. On the other hand, they will want approaches that are user-focused (e.g. University of Washington's MyGateway and North Carolina State University's MyLibrary@NCState) rather than library-focused.

Technology in the form of the Web is making library resources available to more people than ever before, and blurring the lines between local users and remote ones. All libraries will face more variety in their users, their expectations of services, and their demand on resources. Some will be experts while other will expect extensive help to make them experts. As libraries develop resources (e.g. digitized collections, Web tutorials), those who use them may come from anywhere on the globe. Expectations will be incredibly varied.

Interactive and interconnected library services will be the most valued. Interactive web services enable users to do something different, to find and manipulate information. Services that do not connect the citation to catalog holdings to full text/ILL document delivery will be unsatisfactory to many. More research is needed to improve the reliability and usefulness of these services and resources. Artificial intelligence offers interesting possibilities for interactive searching, but may also lead to bad advice to users.

The under-served and unserved probably have few if any expectations of libraries, yet are potential library supporters. Consequently, libraries need to continually describe their communityís populations, identify unmet needs, and craft services to address them. Changing demographics (e.g. increase in the Hispanic population, aging population) may provide overlooked opportunities for critical services.

Maintaining a physical infrastructure that supports disinterested and immediate access
We will also be faced with the changing face of products to deliver services and resources. Display technology will approach the resolution and contrast of readable print, making it more reasonable to ask patrons to view lower-demand documents electronically. E-books, on the other hand, are still probably 10 to 20 years away given the copyright issues and the current state of reading devices; users will want them as soon resolution and access improves. Internet workstations in libraries will change as Internet access becomes highly portable and wireless; smaller and more portable devices will be available, and libraries may struggle to provide them to those without. As workstations evolve and flat panel displays become inexpensive, space will be saved.

Building systems that provide access to accurate information in an un-biased way
Libraries cannot afford inefficiency or duplication of effort. They need to develop means to be quicker to recognize needs and find solutions. This also suggests that rather than the traditional large, system-wide implementation of services, libraries will experiment more, develop prototypes, and implement new services on a smaller scale and more steadily. Cooperative projects, such cataloging the Web through OCLC's Project CORC or the ISAAC Network, will become predominant. Also, libraries will need to identify submerging technologies and let them go to make way for emerging ones; maintaining both will be too expensive.

Consortia and collaboration
Libraries have twenty-five years experience with technology and have at various times been leaders (use of bar codes and minicomputers) and laggards (adoption of IP networks and extensive use of PCs). They will continue to lead and lag. Awareness of new products and potentially useful services should permeate the entire staff, not just those in automation. Identifying and implementing new technology will be the job of everybody in the library. This implies looking beyond the traditional world of library vendors. We need to find products and figure out how to tweak them to work for us, in our environments. We will have to develop the skills to do this, or identify others that are available to us. Collaborating among all types of libraries could lead to new solutions and services.

Librarians as teachers not just gatekeepers
The human factor is still important to libraries and those who use them. Library staff can help the overloaded information user by helping them select and evaluate material. Electronic tools can assist us in doing that; the tools will become just tools, not the focus. As teachers, we will need to participate throughout the educational continuum; university libraries will cooperate with K-12 media specialists to develop the information fluency of students.

Further Reading


1999 ARL/OCLC Strategic Issues Forum. "The Keystone Principles." Web page, November 1999 [accessed 23 January 2000]. Available at

Baker, Sharon L. "Cooperative Questioning for the Sake of Innovation." Public Libraries 38, no. 4 (1999): 214-15.

Barry, Tony. "The Next Waves of Change: The Future as Seen from January 1999." In Proceedings of the Ninth Australasian Information Online & On Disc Conference and Exhibition, Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre, Sydney Australia 19-21 January 1999. Web page, January 1999 [accessed 29 March 2000]. Available at

Hisle, W. Lee. "Facing the New Millennium: Values for the Electronic Information Age." College and Research Libraries News 59, no. 1 (1998): 6-8.

Intner, Sheila S. "The Good Professional: a New Vision." American Libraries 29, no. 3 (1998): 48-50.

Welles, Gordon. "The Individual, the Mass Market, and the Public Library." Public Libraries 38, no. 4 (1999): 217.

White, Herbert S. "Where Is This Profession Heading?" Library Journal 124, no. 9 (1999): 44-45.

Building and Maintaining Collections

Anghelescu, Hermina G. G., and Donald G. Jr. Davis. "Books and Libraries in the New Millennium: a Review Essay." Choice 37, no. 1 (1999): 87, 90-91, 94-97.

Case, Mary M. "Views of the Current Marketplace for Scholarly Journals." ARL Newsletter no.200 (1998): 1.

Chudnuv, David. "Open Source Software: the Future of Libraries." Library Journal 124, no. 13 (1999): 40.

Commission on Preservation and Access, Research Libraries Group, and Task Force on Archiving of Digital Information. "Preserving Digital Information: Final Report and Recommendations." Web page, May 20, 1996 [accessed 29 March 2000]. Available at

Griffin, Stephen M. "Digital Libraries and the NSF/DARPA/NASA Digital Libraries Initiative." In Libraries for the New Millennium. Editor David Raitt, 114-47. London: Library Association Publishing, 1997.

McWhorter, Robert. "eBooks." Web page, January 2000 [accessed 29 March 2000]. Available at

Okerson, Ann Shumelda. "Buy or Lease: Two Models for Scholarly Information at the End (or the Beginning) of an Era." In Books, Bricks & Bytes: Libraries in the Twenty-First Century. Editors Stephen R. Graubard, and Paul LeClerc, 55-76. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 1998.

Ouderkirk, Jane Padham. "Technical Services Task Assignment: From Macros to Collection Management Intelligent Agents." Journal of Academic Librarianship 25, no. 5 (1999): 397-401.

Wasserman, Marlie. "How Much Does It Cost to Publish a Monograph and Why?" Journal of Electronic Publishing 4, no. 1 (1998).

Copyright and Privacy

Association of Research Libraries. "Copyright and Intellectual Property." Web page, February 2000 [accessed 29 March 2000]. Available at

Electronic Privacy Information Center. Web page, March 2000 [accessed 29 March 2000]. Available at

Gorman, Michael. "Technical Services Tomorrow." Technical Services Today and Tomorrow. 2 ed., Editor Michael Gorman, 199-202. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, Inc., 1998.

Heckart, Ronald J. "The Digital Library in a Commercialized Internet." Journal of Academic Librarianship 25, no. 4 (1999): 274-80.

LITA Top Technology Trends Committee. "Top tech trends: January 1999 ALA midwinter." Web page, 1999 [accessed 12 January 2000]. Available at

Recruitment, Retention, Training, and Retirement of Library Staff

Berger, Carol. "Executive Recruiting in to the New Millennium." Public Libraries 37, no. 6 (1998): 354-55.

D'Andraia, Frank. "Trends in Library Personnel." Oregon Library Association.

Dawson, Alma, and Kathleen de la Pena McCook. "Trends Affecting the Roles of Reference Librarians." The Reference Librarian 54 (1996): 53-73.

Eberhart, George M. "Keeping the Library in Library Education: Kathleen De La Pena McCook and June Lester Tackle the Issues and Trends in Education for Librarianship." American Libraries 29, no. 3 (1998): 59, 61, 63.

Haycock, Ken, Congress on Professional Education Steering Committee, and American Library Association. "Congress on Professional Education." Web page, June 1999 [accessed 11 January 2000]. Available at

Hill, Janet Swan and Sheila S. Intner. "Preparing for a cataloging career: from cataloging to knowledge management." Web page, April 1999 [accessed 11 January 2000]. Available at

Martin, Robert and Library and Information Studies Issues Working Group. "Congress on professional education: issues in library and information studies education." Web page, June 1999 [accessed 11 January 2000]. Available at

Rothery, Elizabeth. "Personal Communication." 1999.

Sager, Don editor. "Looking Through the Glass: Leadership Views the Future." Public Libraries 38, no. 2 (1999): 89-92.

Strong, Gary E. "Toward a Virtual Future." The Reference Librarian 54 (1996): 153-61.

Tennant, Roy. "The Most Important Management Decision: Hiring Staff for the New Millennium." Library Journal 123, no. 3 (1998): 102.

van Brakel, Pieter. "Education and Training for Information Professional in Face of the Internet and the World Wide Web." In Libraries for the New Millennium. Editor David Raitt, 240-282. London: Library Association Publishing, 1997.

Woodsworth, Anne. "New Library Competencies." Library Journal 122, no. 9 (1997): 46.

Woodward, Jeannette. "Retraining the Profession, or, Over the Hill at 40." American Libraries 28, no. 4 (1997): 32-34.

Services and Users Expectations

Dresang, Eliza T. "Education for Youth Services Specialization in Librarianship: Background Paper." Web page, April 1999 [accessed 11 January 2000]. Available at

Grygierczyk, Natalia. "The Infinite Library: Putting Strategic Policy in to Practice." In Libraries for the New Millennium. Editor David Raitt, 65-88. London: Library Association Publishing, 1997.

Kemp, Roger L. "A City Manager Looks at Trends Affecting Public Libraries." Public Libraries 38, no. 2 (1999): 116-19.

Kent, Susan Goldberg. "American Public Libraries: A Long Transformative Moment." In Books, Bricks & Bytes: Libraries in the Twenty-First Century. Editors Stephen R. Graubard, and Paul LeClerc, 207-20. New Brunswick: Transactions Publishers, 1998.

Lang, Brian. "Bricks and Bytes: Libraries in Flux." In Books, Bricks & Bytes: Libraries in the Twenty-First Century. Editors Stephen R. Graubard, and Paul LeClerc, 221-34. New Brunswick: Transactions Publishers, 1998.

Lipow, Anne G. "Serving the Remote User: Reference Service in the Digital Environment." In Proceedings of the Ninth Australasian Information Online & On Disc Conference and Exhibition, Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre, Sydney Australia 19ñ21 January 1999. Web page, January 1999 [accessed 29 March 2000]. Available at

Low, Kathleen. "The Future Role of Reference Librarians: Will It Change." The Reference Librarian 54 (1996): 145-51.

Lyman, Peter. "The Social Functions of Digital Libraries: Designing Information Resources for Virtual Communities." In Proceedings of the Ninth Australasian Information Online & On Disc Conference and Exhibition, Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre, Sydney Australia 19ñ21 January 1999. Web page, January 1999 [accessed 29 March 2000]. Available at

Shirato, Linda, and Joseph Badics. "Library Instruction in the 1990s: a Comparison With Trends in Two Earlier LOEX Surveys." Research Strategies 15, no. 4 (1997): 223-37.

Tennant, Roy. "Determining Our Digital Destiny." American Libraries 31, no. 1 (2000): 54,56-58.