Many people regarded the September 2009 headline, “Cushing Academy Goes Bookless” as more of a curiosity than a serious trend. The way Cushing Headmaster James Tracy put it, “Instead of a traditional library with 20,000 books, we’re building a virtual library where students will have access to millions of books.”

But underlying this blip on the radar screen lies a groundswell of innovation that promises a revolution in books. The book industry along with authors, publishers, and the online giants: Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Yahoo are still arguing over the rights conveyed to each member of the value chain. Consumers, however, are simply looking for faster, cheaper, quicker way to access books and information.

Beyond the issues of digital rights an entire new industry is emerging around interface devices with electronic book readers gaining tremendous market share. Amazon’s Kindle broke the ice in 2006 and is now joined by Sony, LG, Barnes & Noble, Apple, and others. 2009 saw the price of bookreaders drop by 50% to under $200. 2010 will see a similar plummet with some being offered for under $100. In less than 5 years bookreaders will cost less than $20 and become ubiquitous. The result will be a very chaotic downward spiral for the ink-on-paper publishing world.

Books have long created an impressive backdrop for library activities, but those days may be numbered

Books have long created an impressive backdrop
for library activities, but those days are numbered

In spite of the dwindling interest in books as a physical object, books themselves will flourish. The demand for well-produced literary works will continue to grow, but will transition in style and form as technology creates new ways for people to interact with authors and experts in the field.

Despite the objections of book lovers, the days of wandering through the stacks are coming to an end.

As the popularity of books in the printed form begins to dwindle, libraries will be faced with rethinking their role and the way they interact with their user constituency. Their purpose will still revolve around being a point of access for information, but will evolve into a center of culture, a media archive for the community, and a place where great ideas can spring to life.

Even with expanded services through the web, their greatest value will lie in their sense of place. They will remain a place where questions get answered but will also become a gathering place for people to meet people and teams are able to plan, network, and interact with the information before them.

Future libraries will become fluid structures for causing positive human collisions. Next generation tools and equipment will be a source of intellectual spontaneity, giving people the ability to produce audio, video, graphic, and other sensory works as a way to breathe life into their thinking.

The ultimate “library of the future” will be the home for highly relevant informational experiences, where great ideas are born, and people have access to the tools and facilities to act on their ideas.


  • In less than 20 years, the majority of libraries will no longer have traditional printed books in them.
  • Since digital libraries have a much smaller labor component, the demand for traditionally trained librarians will drop over the next 20 years to less than half of what it is today.


Along with the transformation of libraries will come a great opportunity to help them reinvent themselves. The technology component will continue to increase and support for the technology will create many new openings.

By Futurist Thomas Frey

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5 Responses to “5.) Trends to Watch in 2010 – Bookless Libraries”

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  1. <a href='' rel='external nofollow' class='url'> - What’s Hot Week (Dec 27, 2009)</a>

    [...] Intriguing Predictions from Futurist Thomas Frey - Trends to Watch in 2010 – Bookless Libraries [...]
  2. Jerry E. Stephens

    I have mixed feelings about the "bookless library." I do believe you are on to a quickening trend. I've been a librarian for more than 40 years (with a 1968 M.A.L.Sc. degree). Until about 5 years ago, I would have resisted the notion of such a library world, maybe even seeing it as an overly sterile environment. But the pace has developed to the point that well before 2010 the first photograph will be more the norm than second. I do, however, believe there will still be libraries with significant book collections. Some of these will be older books. Some new books will remain in paper formats. The library will change. You've addressed other ways that libraries will operate. These libraries will still require trained and talented professionals to help library users find just the information desired at the moment wanted. This is what librarians have always done.
  3. Pam Murphy

    I graduated with an MLS in 1987. There will still be a demand for printed volumes as not all people will be comfortable with the digital volume. This will be particularly true of the non-digital native. As the population becomes younger on average, the favor will shift towards the digital provision of books. Libraries will need to adjust and do so quickly. Vendors will need to create contracts for providing digital materials via libraries to their customers. As public libraries are seen as a smaller share of the market, this will need to be encouraged for the vendors to create this opening in the market. Libraries will shortly have the opportunity to re-engineer their services that is unprecedented and, potentially more challenging than adding automated services to their marketing mix which has occurred for the past two decades. I look forward to this reinvention of libraries as a service commodity.
  4. <a href='' rel='external nofollow' class='url'>Bookless Libraries | The League of Ordinary Gentlemen</a>

    [...] are the sorts of arguments the experts make. I’d like to link to an argument that “in less than 20 years most libraries will no longer have traditional books in them”. The writer is a “futurist” who serves as a consultant to libraries and universities, [...]
  5. S.M

    If libraries are going to be bookless in 20 years, where will all the books go? In the bin? on people's bookshelves at home? To the National Library? Won't somebody want to keep the books for historical purposes? What about browsing.... I e-read more often than I turn pages these days but I find it hard to browse for books online.... can't explain why but it is not satisfying to see the online representation of a book and say "i'd like to read that". I find myself more and more heading to a library or bookshop to look at the book, then going and finding it online to read. There are many comments and predictions about libraries becoming community places, but what exactly does that mean? What are the nuts and bolts of this community place thing? It is hard to imagine a societal shift where the community will want to hang around and do "stuff" together.

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