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

Sarah McNicol (Evidence Base, Birmingham City University, Birmingham, UK)

New Library World

ISSN: 0307-4803

Article publication date: 18 July 2008




McNicol, S. (2008), "The Library in the Twenty‐first Century (2nd ed.)", New Library World, Vol. 109 No. 7/8, pp. 397-398.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

The first edition of The Library in the Twenty‐first Century was published in 2000, so, given the changes that have taken place already this century, an updated edition is clearly welcome.

As in the first edition, the first part of the book is devoted to answering the question: “What is a library?”, while Part 2 looks at future libraries. Peter Brophy starts by looking very briefly at the history of libraries before identifying ten threats to their core business, namely, new publishing paradigms, the expansion of bookshops, ecommerce, interactive television, social networking, online learning environments, mobile communications, print on demand, dynamic and transitory information sources and “the unknown”. Chapters 2 and 3 present alternative ways of considering libraries, firstly by sector and then as four cross‐sectoral models: the library as collection, as organiser of resource‐sharing, as provider of access, and the immersive library which is more outward‐looking. An interesting point the author makes is that, while the government still seems to be focused on a collections model for libraries, while, in reality, alternative models are now more appropriate.

Chapter 4 gives a useful summary of the way in which libraries are viewed by professional organisations. This is, perhaps, a limited view as it is largely UK‐focused and concentrates on academic and public libraries. Given that much of this book is concerned with technological developments, it is appropriate that a chapter is devoted to digital libraries and how these have developed historically. The final chapter of Part 1 asks, “What makes a good library?”, that is, what standards and quality management systems are there for evaluating library performance?

The second part of the book looks at Future Libraries. The first topic considered is how users are linked to information resources, but of course the role of libraries now and in the future is more than simply connecting users with information, so other user and library functions such as learning, creating, interpretation and preservation and also considered, albeit briefly. Peter Brophy then focuses on the library user, considering issues such as personalisation, data protection, information behaviour, learning and information literacy. Finally, he discusses the “information universe”, and the place of libraries within this. This covers a range of subjects including Web 2.0, open access, information objects, metadata and preservation.

For me, by far the most interesting chapter of this book is the final short section in which the author outlines ways in which he feels that libraries in the twenty‐first century need to progress if they are to respond effectively to the ten threats outlined in the first chapter. As I read this section, I found myself agreeing with some points, questioning others and wanting to hear more of Peter Brophy's views about how libraries can become lifeflow‐centred, use appropriate language, support creativity, become part of the broader literacy movement, understand learning, be valued as a community place, use technology appropriately and form alliances. Each of these is covered in one page or less, but this left me wanting to hear more. In fact, I wished the whole book had been structured around these themes.

This book undoubtedly provides a knowledgeable overview of the main issues facing libraries and would be extremely useful for LIS students and also for researchers and practitioners. However, in a book about the library in the twenty‐first century, I was expecting something more visionary, setting out what libraries might become. I felt quite disheartened after finishing this book; it focuses on the threats and dangers facing libraries and I feel it portrays a fearful vision for their future. I would prefer to view contemporary developments such as new publishing methods, social networking and online learning as exciting opportunities which libraries should grasp and I wish this book had said more about how libraries can best exploit some of these inevitable developments.

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