Deep Dive in Five with Sandra Hirsh on The Future of Libraries

by | Jun 5, 2024 | Community Engagement, Featured

Join a panel of library experts for a lively discussion on the future of libraries on June 25.

“The library of 2035 will surely face its storms, threats, and crises; however, libraries and librarians who commit to innovation, stay ahead of emerging technologies, and strongly advocate their value will stand strong and tall with roots well-grounded as an essential community resource for learning, communicating, playing and working.” 

— “Library 2035: Imagining the Next Generation of Libraries,” p. 188

“Library 2035: Imagining the Next Generation of Libraries,” edited by Sandra Hirsh

“Library 2035: Imagining the Next Generation of Libraries,” edited by Sandra Hirsh.

Sandra Hirsh believes that libraries and librarians serve critical roles in a changing society. Hirsh, who serves as associate dean of academics at San José State University’s College of Professional and Global Education, edited “Library 2035: Imagining the Next Generation of Libraries,” a collection of perspectives written by library professionals and academics about the future of libraries.

On June 25, Hirsh will moderate The Evolving Library, a speaker series featuring information experts as they discuss how libraries can address emerging technology’s opportunities and potential harms, at San José State’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library in room 225 and online from 4-6 p.m. The event is hosted by SJSU King Library in partnership with the SJSU iSchool.

Panelists include: 

  • Erin Berman, equitable libraries division director of Alameda County Library and co-editor of the next edition of the American Library Association’s “Intellectual Freedom Manual”
  • Christina Mune, ’09 History, ’11 MLIS, associate dean of innovation and resource management at the SJSU King Library and thought leader of SJSU’s collaborative Digital Humanities Center
  • Ray Pun, academic and research librarian at the Alder Graduate School of Education and ALA president-elect (2025-2026)
  • Patty Wong, city librarian of the Santa Clara City Library and ALA President (2021-2022)

In advance of the June 25 event, Hirsh sat down with us to share how libraries and librarians contribute to ensuring the continuation of an informed citizenry as new technology emerges.

How did the Library 2035 project come to be?

Sandra Hirsh

Sandra Hirsh

Sandra Hirsh (SH): Library 2035: Imagining the Next Generation of Libraries” is a follow-up to an earlier book published in 2013 called “Library 2020: Today’s Leading Visionaries Describe Tomorrow’s Library” by Joseph Janes. That book was originally published more than ten years ago, and many things have changed since then! For example, the global COVID-19 pandemic has had huge lasting societal impacts. We have also seen many global social, political and economic disruptions and dramatic technological changes that have transformed (and continue to transform) how we live, work and play. When considering all of these changes, it becomes clear that we need to rethink what the future will look like for libraries. 

Library 2035 explores the lessons learned over the past decade and forecasts the opportunities, strengths and challenges for libraries in the future. Twenty-nine library thought leaders, representing a broad range of perspectives and experiences, shared their ideas about the future of libraries by the year 2035. Each contributor was asked to address this prompt: ​​“The library in 2035 will be/must be/must not be/will not be/can’t be…”   

The book is accompanied by a Library 2035 Webcast Series, where I interviewed the book’s contributors about their chapters and their visions for the future of libraries. 

Why the year 2035?

SH: It is a tall task to ask people to predict the future! I picked the year 2035 because that is approximately ten years out from the time that the book was published (in March 2024). Ten years is far enough in the future to be interesting but also near enough that library thought leaders would have some ideas to share about their visions.  

What do you hope SJSU students, faculty and staff understand about the future of libraries like King Library?

SH: I want people to understand the critical role that libraries are playing and will continue to play in the future for students, faculty and staff. Libraries like King Library are so much more than just books! Libraries today are about access to information, innovation and experimentation, information/digital/AI literacy and co-creation of knowledge — just to name a few. And this will become an even bigger focus in libraries in the future. Here are a few examples related to the King Library:

  • Libraries are not just about books, or even just about published content. Libraries often provide innovation spaces and places to experiment and learn new technologies. For example, the King Library Experiential Virtual Reality Lab, known as the KLEVR Lab, provides opportunities for students and instructors to use AR and VR technologies for class or other projects. The King Library also has a Prototyping Lab which allows students to use and get training on prototyping equipment (e.g., 3D printers, laser cutters, soldering stations). Also, SJSU students, faculty and staff can borrow laptops, iPads and other tech if they want, in addition to checking out books and other materials.
  • Libraries provide other types of learning spaces, in addition to study rooms and other group working spaces. For example, the King Library offers a Presentation Practice Room so that students can practice, review and record presentations and pitches. Also, the new Digital Humanities Center, which will be opening soon, will offer new opportunities for the campus community.

  • Libraries are great places to cultivate digital, information and AI literacy skills which are needed now more than ever.  News media today has become fraught with misinformation (media that is inaccurate), disinformation (media that is intentionally misleading), hidden biases, deepfakes, and alternative facts. Libraries can help people find and determine legitimate sources of information to inform their research, projects and coursework. For example, the King Library offers many supports for Information Literacy Instruction and provides library support to help users find the information they need. The King Library also provides a Technology Training Center to help students, faculty, and staff get the software training and support they need for classwork or other projects. Additionally, the King Library recently launched AI@SJSU, which shares what types of AI initiatives are taking place at SJSU. 

How do you see changes in technology and advances in artificial intelligence as helping or hindering the future of libraries?

SH: Many of the contributors to the book referenced the impact that new technologies, especially the emergence and widespread integration of machine learning and generative AI, are having on libraries and the communities they serve. Most of the points of view are cautiously optimistic about the future of libraries in light of new technological developments. In the past, libraries have successfully adopted new technologies and integrated them to improve the ways that they provide services to their user communities. 

Think back to the predictions that libraries would no longer be needed when new technology developments like the internet and ebooks became ubiquitous. While libraries certainly evolved as a result of these developments, libraries still exist today and continue to thrive. I believe that the same will be true for libraries in the future with new advances in artificial intelligence and other new technologies.  

Here are some of the critical roles that libraries could play in the future: 

  • Address digital equity and information access: Libraries play several crucial roles in society, particularly around ensuring digital equity and information access. Around the world, and even locally within our own communities, there is a persistent digital divide — a gap between those with access and those without access to important information, new technologies, etc.  For example, we are seeing equity gaps in access to the paid versions and the free versions of generative AI tools. Libraries can help address these types of disparities by providing access to their user communities through the library.

  • Provide digital and AI literacy training: Another important role for libraries to play is related to digital and AI literacy training. What exactly AI literacy means is still being figured out but it likely would include developing a better understanding of what generative AI provides (how it is a “black box” and how unclear it is what materials are being used to train the large language models), what its limitations are (e.g., biases, hallucinations, potential misinformation), as well as other considerations (e.g., ethical, responsible use, privacy, security, environmental). 

Librarians have a strong set of Core Values of Librarianship (the five values are access, equity, intellectual freedom and privacy, public good and sustainability) which are important to consider when adopting new technologies and thinking through the ethical considerations and implications. 

  • Offer opportunities for experimentation with new technologies: Another opportunity for libraries is to provide users with opportunities to experiment and play with new technologies. For example, AI-driven technologies can create immersive learning experiences, and even fully virtual libraries, expanding access and enhancing educational opportunities for patrons. Libraries have already been doing this for years, such as through programs like Technology Petting Zoos that allow people to experiment with and try out new technologies in the library.
  • Integrate AI to improve library services: Libraries need to also experiment with how to integrate AI to improve their library services and functions. AI could be used to personalize readers’ advisory recommendations, analyze usage patterns in the library and identify how to utilize resources and meet user needs in more effective ways, translate content, use natural language processing to help users in the search process and analyze research data sets, among other potential uses. These possibilities are still being explored and I anticipate many more innovative applications to emerge. 

    What excites you about this next chapter of librarianship?

    I see lots of opportunities for libraries to have a strong impact on their communities — such as serving as champions for digital equity and information access, offering training and support for information and digital literacy, integrating and using new technologies, enhancing library services in ways that benefit all users in a community, promoting ethical, safe, and responsible use of AI and other technologies, co-creating library programming and content with the community and so much more. 

    I believe that libraries will be successful in the future if they do the following: 

    • Continue to uphold foundational principles. The library of 2035 will be more resilient, responsive, collaborative and essential to the success of its community. We can draw inspiration from redwood trees, which protect against threats, regenerate after disasters, and support each other. Similarly, libraries will continue to uphold foundational principles of care, innovation and advocacy, preparing for a resilient future by embracing new opportunities.

    • Adapt to changes. Libraries in 2035 will adapt to shifts in how society interacts with information and technology, ensuring safe access to a digitized landscape. They’ll serve as trusted partners, providing support and resources to their communities and acting as liaisons and change agents for a brighter future.

    • Increase their role in information access, partnerships and providing safe harbor.  Librarians must prioritize safe and efficient access to global information, strengthen partnerships across sectors and borders and elevate the library’s role in providing safe harbor during crises and recovery.
    • Demonstrate relevance. Librarians will demonstrate the library’s relevance to leaders, voters and stakeholders to secure funding. They’ll manage challenges to intellectual freedom, expand information access for marginalized populations and build partnerships focusing on key literacies to empower all community members.

    RSVP to The Evolving Library, a special event featuring Hirsh at the King Library on June 25.