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10 Predictions for 2012

For 2011, as one of my helpful commenters pointed out, my predictions weren’t very daring. Despite the gloomy rhetoric coming from the library community about library closings, I was pretty sure most libraries wouldn’t be closing. I was right.

For 2012, I’m less sure. This might be the year when public libraries are forced to change their mission drastically as the “information” they trade in shifts away from physical formats entirely. So let’s try for a few predictions that might be slightly less predictable. Here’s a sampling of what we’ll see in 2012:

1) The Big Six publishers will move away from printed books to a significant extent and offer almost everything they publish only as an ebook.

2) The Big Six publishers will keep up their hostility to public libraries, and those that currently supply ebooks to libraries will stop altogether, a move they would have made with printed books decades ago if only they could have controlled the distribution model.

3) Libraries will thus have to rely upon their historic print collections and works from small publishers to supply books to their patrons.

4) The CD and DVD will dwindle significantly in popularity.

5) As a result, recording companies and movie studios will begin releasing most of their titles through digital streaming only.

6) Movie companies will finally pull their heads from their collective bottoms and realize that if they sell digital movies without DRM – the way Amazon and iTunes now sell music – people will actually buy them rather than just pirate them from the Internet. The digital movie business booms!

7) To protect this booming but tenuous business, movie companies, along with music companies, will restrict libraries from accessing most digital music and movies.

8) Libraries will thus have to rely upon their steadily deteriorating collections of CDs and DVDs to provide their patrons with A/V “information” now that they can’t buy new CDs and DVDs or rent access to streaming audio and video.

9) The long decline of public libraries as providers of books, music, and movies to their patrons will increase in 2012, because patrons abandon libraries since they can’t get any new books, movies, or music. The only people left will be the people who can’t afford Internet at home, homeless people, and the library staff.

10) Most people won’t notice because they’ll be too busy renting ebooks from Amazon, streaming music from Spotify et al., and streaming videos from Netflix et al. That and the world will be ending like those Mayans supposedly predicted.

And there you have it, my predictions for libraries in 2012. A brave new year for a brave new world.

Happy New Year!


Please note that new comments for all posts on this blog have been closed.


  1. Bold predictions? Many of us have been saying this for a few years now.

    My guess is that by 2019, public libraries will have closed in all but the wealthiest communities and major cities, following a pattern similar to the decline of independent pharmacies:

    A thousand cuts versus a single blow drained the viability from these community fixtures. Across the nation, community by community, independent pharmacies have struggled and closed. As I said, they’re pretty much gone where I live. Although a few news outlets connected the dots along the way, the closings were viewed as local matters. I remember people used to talk about them (“Hey, have you heard McCarthy’s Pharmacy over in Shrewsbury is closing?“) but the change occurred so steadily over so many years that people stopped talking about it. After a while there just wasn’t anything left to say.

  2. Your predictions will prove correct (to some extent) only if libraries continue to rely on their collections to keep them relevant. Libraries must be bold and boldly go where no library has gone before, wherever that may be. Hopefully 2012 will bring with it a national dialogue that will address this fundamental issue.

  3. The Librarian With No Name says:

    If public libraries intend to weather the upcoming Digital Superpocalypse(TM) they will need to focus on and expand those services which do not rely on physical collections.

    There is little need to realign our services to better serve folks who can’t afford home internet or the homeless, as these are stable demographics regardless of the level of service. As American sage Charles Barkley famously said, “The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.”

    To this end, I have concocted a few suggestions for expanding common library services which do not rely on the library’s ability to acquire or distribute published material. These are based on some of the more common reference questions I have encountered.

    1. Doing homework for parents who are doing homework for their kids. Currently, public libraries in residential areas are industry-leading sources for free rough-draft creation for K-12 research projects. As the common topics for these projects are narrowly limited, I propose the creation of an interlibrary database of pre-written essays on a range of topics which can be printed out and given to parents are doing their childrens’ homework. This will not only be a valuable service for the community, it will greatly increase the efficiency of the typical reference interview and reduce the danger of reference librarians having to re-learn the factors leading to the Louisiana Purchase.

    2. Public restroom services. Since time immemorial, the public library has been primarily a provider of toilets. Shockingly, no public library has won the UK Loo of the Year award in its 24 year history. In fact, no public library toilets were even considered for the 2011 award. It’s clear that we’re going to have to step up both the quality of our facilities and our community outreach in this area. I suggest improved signage and a nation wide “Firing One Off @ Your Library” campaign.

    We could also leverage social media by starting local twitter feeds reporting on the quality and traffic of public facilities elsewhere in the community. I’d suggest programming an iPhone app for the purpose, but I’d be stunned if several identical apps didn’t already exist.

    3. Public book challenges. For most people, reading a news story about some nitwit trying to remove a book from a public library’s collection on moral or political grounds is the first reason they’ve had to think about public libraries since they got their first credit card. This is an unbeatable source of free marketing, and right now it’s being badly mishandled.

    Every book challenge in every library should be leveraged into a nationwide censorship scandal. There are currently public debates on the topic, but these are mostly confined to PTA meetings. I think the ALA should purchase some network air time and televise every book challenge. Maybe hire a Japanese gameshow developer to spice things up a little. I don’t actually have any reason to believe this will increase usage of public libraries, I just really want to see someone with more political correctness than reading comprehension fist-fight a dude dressed like Mark Twain during the Lightning Round.

  4. Techserving You says:

    Hmmm… interesting… you’re forgetting the middle man. These predictions would also prove to be the death of library vendors. Vendors have moved into ebooks, but physical books are still their bread and butter, and they will not be able to absorb a change to all ebooks if it occurs suddenly (and will have to majorly reorganize and downsize if it occurs slowly.)

    In any case, I disagree with Jean although I think there is some merit to what she says. I’ve mentioned before that I am now the Library Director at a small (rural) public library. This is a major departure from my former jobs at large and prestigious academic libraries. I’m getting to know the community of public librarians in my area, most of whom work in other small, rural libraries. It is true that my town is an affluent town, though rural. (Think wealthy and quaint New England village.) But many of the towns in the area are not. And the libraries are heavily used, mostly by people who want books (!) though the DVDs are popular, too. In this environment, there is a surprising interest in libraries, even among the poor (and even though our property taxes are some of the highest in the nation and the property taxes pay for the libraries.) If I had read this prediction even a year ago, I would have nodded in agreement. But I think it’s actually the small town libraries (in both poor and rich communities) which are most likely to stay open.

  5. That was uplifting.

  6. 1)Libraries will buy institutional access to vendors such as netflix and amazon prime.
    2) Libraries will push to offer city wide wide wi-fi that sets the library as the automatic homepage so they can beef up their web hit stats.
    3) Libraries will check out tablets so people can access that city wide wifi when and where they please- plus watch movies or read books on the institutional accounts with netflix/amazon prime.
    4) No one will see this comping, but everyone will see this coming.
    5) Customer service will improve.
    6) Libraries will slowly lose funding as the city realizes you don’t need librarians (for the most part) when you’ve got free wifi, free tablets, free streaming movies, and free e-books.

  7. Will the vendors for the small town libraries be able to provide these services at affordable levels if they don’t have the big boys and girls paying most of their bills?

    I mean, can brodart afford to supply rural kansas with processed e-books if no one else is buying them? The cost for this service would shoot through the roof if the scale is drastically reduced.

  8. Jean- GREAT analogy! This trend is something I’ve been aware of for a while. I’ve noticed that indy pharmacies that are still going are those that compound their own medications. These are used by people with specific needs and it usually converts them to lifelong customers (based on conversations with pharmacists and personal experiences- so completely annecdotal).

  9. Stephen Michael Kellat says:

    And you forgot an eleventh: “The Internet will collapse as it was never really intended for so much streaming and suddenly ebooks will be seen as ephemera.”

  10. Greg Belvedere says:

    I have my own prediction. We will see a DRM-free ebook lending social network. At first it might only allow users to share ebooks in the public domain, but will ultimately let people share any DRM-free ebooks. Read how it will work at

  11. noutopianlibrarian says:

    Let’s not leave out academic libraries:

    1. Faced with mounting database access costs, academic libraries begin selling those books that have never circulated.

    2. Left with largely empty library buildings after these booksales, and driven by the desire to attract students, insightful administrators hire events promoters. It turns out that toga parties and indie rock concerts are most popular with college library patrons. Interestingly, these events co-exist well with study use of the library spaces also, since students are plugged into high volume ipods in either case.

    3. In an effort to satisfy the bibliographic needs of professors, money is set aside to build library wings on their homes. Full professors also receive the services of a personal librarian (live-in servant quarters optional), but others must share a travelling professional.

    4. Graduate students, faced with bookless libraries and piles of books purchased at firesale prices from the booksales, can apply for grants to furnish them with concrete blocks and 1x8s to construct their home bookshelves.

    5. Community colleges and other less well-to-do academic institutions, faced with plummeting use, begin to compete with public libraries for their homeless patrons.

  12. Formerprof says:

    I’m not sure that analogy is apt. Independent pharmacies may be closing, but pharmaceuticals are still widely and conveniently available. In every town I’ve lived in, there’s a CVS and/or Walgreens on every 3rd corner. The distribution of pharmaceuticals is consolidating.

    Are you suggesting that another entity is going to consolidate the distribution of free published material?

  13. Cathy Gontar says:

    Public libraries open–and close. We just opened a
    multi-million dollar one here, one of 15 in this county.
    There are a heck of a lot of libraries out there and
    they are still opening and closing. People want public
    libraries. Period. People want books
    in their libraries. They will continue to pay for them unless that right is denied to them. That is the real world. Publishers have never been hostile to public libraries. Public libraries are automatic sales. Since there is very strong book loyalty, hence market. ALA should be on the side of preservation of the book and book culture, print and electronic.

  14. Libraries and independent pharmacies are totally different entities. That should be obvious.

  15. A-bleeping-men.

    Almost 5 pm – VERY busy day helping many many happy and satisfied patrons in this lovely physical building which serves as an unofficial community center and if not temple then at least a center of learning and enjoyment. I have come to the conclusion after over 20 years of very hard work and lots of crap that I am finally in a very good place (in all sorts of ways). Yes, we have significant funding issues. No, we aren’t going away.

    I just wish all of you weren’t so busy preaching to your choirs.

  16. Formerprof says:

    I’m sure a lot of people where building livery stables while Henry Ford was building his first factory.

  17. Very sobering and lots of tongue in cheek truth saying. Love my gig, but I see the writing on the walls.

  18. chicagolibrarian says:

    the traditional movie and music content providers who have steve job’d us into this world where people think books and records won’t exist. GFY GFY, and you, GFY! Libraries will digitize what they own, books will be better, nicer and (less fiction! yay!) and if things go according to plan, we can get rid of overdrive and tablets altogether when the cost of ‘free wifi’ begins to hit the skidmarks of reality. If you do not appreciate the printed book, you are not a librarian. No? GFY.


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