The Digital Revolution and the Transformation of Libraries

Transforming libraries and the 2015 Strategic Plan

May 25, 2011

Keith Michael Fiels

Two major topics dominated discussions during the ALA Executive Board Spring Meeting April 22–24 at the Association’s Chicago headquarters. ALA’s new 2015 strategic plan now includes a Transforming Libraries goal that calls for the Association to “provide leadership in the transformation of libraries and library services in a dynamic and increasingly global digital library environment.”

The goal outlines four objectives:

  • Increase opportunities to share innovative practices and concepts across the profession, nationally and internationally, and among all libraries.
  • Increase recognition of and support for experimentation with innovative and transformational ideas.
  • Help libraries make use of new and emerging technologies by promoting and supporting technological experimentation and innovation.
  • Increase leadership development and training opportunities designed to support the ongoing transformation of libraries.

While the goal may be new to the strategic plan, the functions it describes are not: Wherever members gather together, much of their effort, energy, and discussion is devoted to identifying best practices and “next” practices—those innovative and experimental ideas that are shaping the library of the future.

Because so much of the work around transforming academic, public, school, and special libraries is occurring in the divisions, this goal provides a unique opportunity to highlight and promote much of the great work that the Association’s 11 divisions are doing. The board discussed creation of a Transforming Libraries portal on the ALA website, providing a single point of access for links to all of the many resources within the divisions, offices, round tables, and other units of ALA. The possibility of a Transforming Libraries–themed conference in 2012 was also probed, as well as how the award programs—most of which recognize innovation—support the transformation goal.

The board stressed the need for the Association to articulate what transformation means to the public and why it is important to communities and individuals. This year we have seen an extraordinary interest on the part of the media in the future of libraries and the impact of e-books in particular. With some—very few, thankfully—questioning the future of libraries, the board discussed how we can forcefully communicate the changes that are occurring in libraries, and transform the public perceptions that are simply out-of-date.

Also covered were the recent Google court decision, which again rejected the proposed settlement as monopolistic; the recent HarperCollins e-book licensing announcement; and the issue of e-books and libraries in general. ALA already has a Google Book Settlement Task Force and a new Task Force on Equitable Access to Electronic Content—both established by ALA Council—as well as the Office for Information Technology Policy Advisory Committee’s E-Book Subcommittee, all working on various aspects of the digital content issue.

While the digital revolution and e-books are not the only factors affecting libraries—changing demographics, changing patterns of expectation and use, and the economy are some other factors—it is one of the more dramatic and is of tremendous concern to members and libraries nationwide. For this reason, the Association must be a strong voice for libraries to the publishing and content-creation community.

During the Spring meeting, the board also reviewed the preliminary ALA 2012 budget, discussed the progress of the Spectrum Presidential Initiative to raise $1 million for scholarships, and talked about a new planned-giving campaign this year.