During the mid 1990s, it was predicted that the library as physical place was doomed. A dualism emerged – the virtual library vs library as place – and it was assumed that the virtual library would prove to be the most popular. In 1995, the State Library of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, produced four scenarios presenting alternative library futures in the twenty‐first century, specifically the year 2010. Only one of these scenarios predicted a reinterpretation and corresponding revitalisation of “library as place”. The author initiated and led this process in 1995 and revisited these scenarios in 2010 with a view to comparing current practices in library design with the attributes described in this lone scenario; the aim of this paper is to focus on this scenario.
Library leaders in Australia, many of whom participated in the 1995 scenario development process, are interviewed, along with a number of architects specialising in contemporary library design. This qualitative process is complemented by an international literature search. Three library sectors are surveyed – collecting institutions, academic and public libraries.
Fifteen years on the dualism between virtual and physical is less stark; a convergence has occurred that would have been unthinkable then. A hybrid has emerged with digital and place‐based notions of a library holding equal currency. Interviewees confirm that “library as place” has never been so popular. This trend is international and emerges from the inter‐weaving of the digital, social and aesthetic that has generated new loci for solitary and collective learning and interaction.
The paper asks questions about what has happened to unsettle predictions conceived in the mid 1990s; what is happening now in terms of new modes of learning and knowledge exchange; and what kind of library spaces and uses can be expected in the future.
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