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Information Professionals in an Era of Disruption: What Next?
Volume 42, Number 2 - March/April 2018


The Information Age continues to transform our world. As Central Queensland University’s Sagarmay Deb notes, information technology is now “playing a very dominant role in our every sphere of life. It has made revolutionary changes in information gathering and dissemination as well as in global communication. It is creating a virtually paperless work environment. Also, we can now send a message very easily to any where in the world in seconds. … These simple examples show where we stand today compared to what it was half a century back. But as we know nothing in this world is purely good as everything has a dark side” (“Information Technology, Its Impact on Society and Its Future,” Advances in Computing, 2016;

University of the Witwatersrand professor David Hornsby, co-editor with James Arvanitakis of Universities, the Citizen Scholar and the Future of Higher Education (Palgrave, 2016), believes that “libraries are central to democracy as they are important sources of information and knowledge—two things that are central to individual empowerment and civic engagement. That said, libraries can’t be passive actors in their role as repositories of information and knowledge. They simply can’t just be spaces that hold information and knowledge.”

Hornsby sees the library of future playing an active role in shaping how information and knowledge are understood and developed. “Libraries are fundamental to shaping our understanding of knowledge through the way information is presented and structured. Legitimacy to certain information is established by it being present in the library. In this sense— libraries’ importance in helping people wade through the chaff—the information that isn’t well research or manipulating data to suit a political purpose.”


Dean Arvanitakis, from Western Sydney University’s Graduate Research School, often thinks of knowledge as a commons. He notes, “Unlike other resources, it is more valuable when abundant.” He is of the opinion that free flow of information is the key to ensuring a vibrant commons and a vibrant democracy: “I suspect that there are many who would argue that libraries are fighting irrelevance—but this is because the commercial presses and others make money from knowledge. This is a type of enclosure—and like any enclosure of the commons, the consequences are often brutal. In this case it may not be physical violence, but a symbolic violence. This is why libraries must be reimagined.”

Expanding on this idea, Arvanitakis adds, “Libraries, like universities more generally, are experiencing some quite radical disruption. When the world becomes online, then the question and value of a library emerges. But this is to misunderstand the role of a library: It is not,” he maintains, “about books but about managing, curating, and ensuring access to knowledge and history. Libraries balance the views of those who try to distort what is happening in the world.” He feels if libraries can be reimagined in this way, their role in developing “citizen scholars”’ will become fundamental. As he sees it, “Libraries are there to promote deep thinking and knowledge—being part of the knowledge journey of our students. Such curators of knowledge mean that even the descriptor ‘librarian’ is no longer viable. So, the future for libraries in a democracy is fundamental— it is potentially one of the pillars.”

According to Hornsby, “The big question that remains is what does the library of the future look like? Universities are struggling with this question in the sense of how can they best be used as spaces to foster learning. We see the emergence of learning commons, more online content then physical con tent, 24-hour access, spaces to house computer labs to access information, as more central as defining features of libraries.” He wonders if universities and communities alike need to be asking a different question of libraries. “How,” he asks, “could they be fostering civic engagement and what role should they be playing in this respect?”

Great attention is being placed on the future of information and libraries today. The British consultancy Arup ( published an extensive report, “The Future of Libraries” (, in July 2017 which asserts the role of libraries as “hubs for education, health, entertainment and work … becoming strategic city assets, designed to stimulate cultural exchange and economic prosperity as well as [nurturing] new community foundations and connections.” The American Library Association’s Center for the Future of Libraries has opened an online website, Manual for the Future of Librarianship (, that is focused on crowdsourcing a “shared base of knowledge for librarianship.”


The Association of Research Libraries in 2013, “fueled by the deep desire of the ARL membership to rise up to the challenges facing higher education in the 21st century, ... engaged in this unprecedented project to reimagine the future of the research library and reshape its organization to help bring that future into being.” The final report ( outlines very important shifts in function and roles for these institutions.

IFLA’s 2013 Trend Report ( similarly “identifies 5 high level trends which will affect and shape the future information ecosystem,” providing “a selection of resources to help you understand where libraries fit into a changing society.” Its 2017 update adds questions about libraries incorporating revolutionary 3D printing techniques, responding to the need to provide education for all, and competing with the enormous amount of misinformation emanating from the internet.

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Nancy K.Herther is the anthropology/sociology librarian at University of Minnesota Libraries, Twin Cities Campus.


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