8% of Librarians Believe Printed Word Will Be ‘Obsolete’ by 2050

By Barbara Hollingsworth | November 20, 2013 | 2:19pm EST



Burke Center Library, Burke, VA (Grimm and Parker)

(CNSNews.com) – Eight percent of librarians and media center specialists believe that people will be largely illiterate by 2050 as video and audio forms of communication completely replace the printed word, according to a 2012 survey.

The survey was conducted by Grimm and Parker, an architectural firm with offices in Virginia and Maryland that has designed over 20 libraries.

"The ability of computers and handheld devices to communicate verbally is advancing at an extraordinary pace. Some believe the days of the printed word are numbered and the transition to an entirely oral/verbal/visual culture is inevitable. Others have even predicted the total demise of literacy as early as 2050.

“Do you agree that reading and writing will one day be obsolete – replaced by entirely oral/verbal or visual modes of communication?”  survey participants were asked. (See The Library of the Future.pdf)

They included public librarians, private art and law firm librarians, and those working in academic settings ranging from kindergarten to the university level.

Although only 8 percent believe that the printed word will completely disappear within the next few decades, 87 percent agree that “advances in communications technology and the increasing use of electronic formats for information storage and retrieval [will] fundamentally change the physical form of tomorrow’s library.”

Future libraries will all but eliminate large reference collections and greatly reduce the space currently occupied by books. Instead, librarians predict, more space will be devoted to individual and group study and community meeting areas, with computer work stations, white boards and other technology taking over the square footage now devoted to general collections.

“Libraries will need less space for materials and more space for people,” the survey found. But librarians were split right down the middle on whether they thought that advances in technology will “fundamentally change the cultural role of tomorrow’s library.”

Half (50 percent) predict that libraries will become “more of a community gathering place,” while the other 50 percent predict that libraries will continue to be "a place of education, a repository of cultural objects for the present and future, a site for exploration, reflection and discovery. Changing the tools does not change the fundamental reasons libraries exist."

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