Redefining Library’s “Collections”

For years, libraries have been measured by the size and breadth of their collections. Iconic libraries like the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., and the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria, Egypt are home to thousands upon thousands of books which live in labyrinths of tall shelves, formidably displaying the preservation of hard-accrued knowledge.

However, in our “post-book” world, the very concept of “collections” is being challenged. Although the value of historical and antique library collections is undeniable, what public libraries can offer their patrons in our digital age is rapidly gaining prominence and their relevance is taking the center stage of public scrutiny.

Public libraries are remarkably adaptable institutions and this is ultimately reflected in the form and face of their collections. As a place of learning and information exchange, public libraries have always adjusted their collections to match the wants and needs of their patrons, and by extension, everyday consumers.

In the mid-1970s when videotapes and audio cassettes hit the market, some (particularly astute) libraries were quick to add them to their collections. And when CDs and DVDs emerged as successors in the late-1990s, it was only a short length of time before many public libraries began to loan these high-value and in-demand products to a growing base of library-goers.

Now, in the world of social networks, instant and mobile access to information, libraries are again rethinking and reinventing their collections. The answer is to engage a new breed of technology-oriented and device-dependent patrons where their attention lies: on their tablets and smartphones. Recent findings by the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project reported that 77% of library patrons considered internet services as very important.

The popularity of eResources is climbing – and predictably so – as more and more patrons turn to libraries for high-value digital services and products like e-books, music downloads, and same-day digital newspapers and magazines. Libraries have also increased the power and appeal of their offerings by enabling easy access of digital resources through apps, securing the attention and interest of a slippery demographic that is the tech-savvy Millennial.

As libraries continue to evolve, we can expect the library’s collections to follow suit and ultimately keep a serviced society engaged, enlightened and empowered.