September 25, 2017

Future of Libraries

Another decade and another wringing of the hands about the fate of libraries. This time from marketing wiz Seth Godin, who asks: "What should libraries do to become relevant in the digital age?"

I’m still relatively new to libraries — 5 years now — but this question of what is going to happen to libraries seems like it has been around for a long time. Back to when offering paperbacks or movies or music was heresy. But you can tell me — is it different today?

Knowing who and what you are is, of course, the essence of marketing. Without knowing that, you can’t let customers know what to expect out of their experience. I also know that we can say what we want about who we are, but overwhelming the public still sees the library as a place for books. The OCLC study on perceptions of libraries showed that. Our recent customer survey (here at CML) showed that overwhelmingly.

So even if we aim to do as Seth Godin says, become places that train people to take intellectual initiative; or we become a learning commons; or, as in the case of my library, we become a transformational agency in our community… we still have to move the public perception of us as books. What’s the plan for that? That’s especially challenging when their experience of the library is still a lot of books on the shelf.

What do you think about the future of libraries?
Everything will be just fine
Man, oh, man do libraries have to change
A little bit of change, a little bit of doing the same free polls
Alison Circle About Alison Circle

Alison Circle is director of marketing communications for Columbus Metropolitan Library. Previously she was an Account Director at Jack Morton Worldwide, a global branding agency, and her primary client was Target Stores. Prior to that she was the National Marketing Director for Minnesota Public Radio and "A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor." She has advanced degrees in English and Fine Arts, and is a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts grant.



  1. Jim Pakala says:

    As Twain indicated when hearing reports of his death, there was exaggeration. That is how much of the hand-wringing strikes me. Energies are better spent on serving well the growing number of people coming through the door and otherwise appreciating their libraries for numerous and diverse reasons.

  2. I am personally kind of sick of the topic. After worrying for so many years about how we stay relevant in the digital age, the question has answered itself, which is proven by increased door and circ counts. Why is it a problem that we are still about books? We should do what we do best: continue to advocate for literacy and reading and intellectual engagement, and stop worrying about whether they “like” us or not. Get off the stupid Twitter account and get out there to help the droves of people still coming through the doors. We ARE relevant. Let’s stop second guessing ourselves.