The Library in the Twenty‐first Century (2nd ed.)

Martin Myhill (Assistant Director (Collections and Research Support), Academic Services, University of Exeter Library, UK)

Program: electronic library and information systems

ISSN: 0033-0337

Article publication date: 25 April 2008




Myhill, M. (2008), "The Library in the Twenty‐first Century (2nd ed.)", Program: electronic library and information systems, Vol. 42 No. 2, pp. 199-200.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

This is the second edition of a much‐vaunted work. In his review of the first edition, David Bawden described the book as outstanding and of the category where the reviewer urges the reader to try to get a copy for themselves. The same can be comfortably said regarding the second edition. It is clear that much has happened in the information professions in the intervening seven years and it should be noted that the contents have been totally revised as a result.

The first half deals with the concept of “what is a library”, including consideration of the digital library and concluding with a section covering “what is a good library”. The first chapter, “Libraries in the modern world” is particularly compelling as it reviews ten current threats to the library business emerging from publishing, social developments and technological advances and especially those arising from the internet. Even the threat of the “unknown” is dealt with. In all the debates about the impact of the “net generation” and even the “screenagers” who will follow them, this one chapter provides a succinct summary of the challenges facing our profession. From there on, the book undertakes the difficult task of considering the full breadth of current library impact in the various library sectors (national, academic, public, school, and workplace) and largely succeeds. But, as Brophy makes clear, the changes the profession is facing run much deeper and he notes that the stress is starting to move away from physical collections to user‐focused spaces which can support multiple learning roles as well as the rapid development of electronic resources. Part 1 concludes:

… the essence of the library is to be found at the nexus of information and use, of information provider and information user and that the successful library is the one which manages services to maximise the benefits to stakeholders, of which the end user, both as individual and as community, is the most important.

Part 2 picks up this bold theme to consider future libraries. The traditional gatekeeper role still exists – if only to help users link to resources. However, there is an increasing role where librarians become more engaged in less‐traditional areas such as teaching, assessment, interpretation and validation of content and preservation of electronic resources. The user is also changing and becoming more multi‐faceted while information is now seen aptly as a “universe”. In the final chapter, Brophy gives us some guidance on areas to progress the library to a state permeating everyday life rather than being a user‐centric service.

The Library in the Twenty‐first Century is a seminal work especially in the UK context. While many authors attempt to make sense of our rapidly evolving profession, there are very few books of this stature and comprehensive coverage. It is not just factually well researched, but is cerebrally presented, and has been written by someone with the professional standing to do so with authority. If you bought the first edition, you should definitely buy the second.

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