Future Libraries<br>Dreams Madness & Reality<br>By Walt Crawford and Michael Gorman
A Review and Perspective by Bruce McKinney
In 1995 Walt Crawford and Michael Gorman wrote this book about the future of libraries. They sought to make the case that the headlong dash into the electronic world was not one that libraries should simply embrace without careful consideration of the efficacy of the changes, their impact on current libraries and the careful evaluation of whether these changes would actually work. To state it another way: new technology rarely supercedes old technologies entirely. They also predicted the future, often getting it wrong, and leaving a potential for the impression that because their predictions miss the mark, the book does too. This isn’t so and these authors should be evaluated like baseball players rather than gymnasts. The standard is not perfection but rather how others have done predicting the future. In that league, batting .400 reaches the level where preserving their corpses may be appropriate.*
In 1995 the internet was becoming a factor, but as we now know, not the factor it is today. Neither was it apparent to these authors how broadly accessible and user friendly the internet would become. They saw exponential growth but not the magnitude of growth the world has since experienced. This of course has compressed the expansion and development of internet services and capabilities into a smaller window.
There was a debate then and there continues to be a debate today as to the role of libraries in a world where information is becoming increasingly accessible from remote locations. It is not very far back into the past that we have to travel to find libraries at the epicenters of places of learning – be they universities, colleges, high schools, middle or elementary schools. The library was not only the central repository of learning but also the symbol of an institution’s commitment to academic excellence. Even today, libraries stand as symbols of academic excellence even as the functionality of libraries is under siege.
There was a time, a hundred years ago, when Andrew Carnegie was single handedly bringing “Carnegie Libraries” to more than 2,500 communities. All through the 19th century literacy was quickly increasing. The building of substantial libraries in thousands of communities was simply the confirmation that literacy had become universal and the need and desire for books would be the natural outgrowth. Literacy, once achieved, would need to be fueled and Mr. Carnegie sought to provide it.