Libraries for the 21st Century

Libraries for the 21st Century

Hiebert Library was a very different place when I began working there in 1984. Back then, library users looked things up in massive card catalogs or printed indexes. There wasn’t a computer in the entire building. None of us had heard the term “online resources”—if something wasn’t on our shelves, we didn’t have it.

Now, almost four decades later, much has changed. The card catalogs have been gone since 1994. All important library functions have been computerized. There still are many books and periodicals on the shelves (and we continue to buy new print books), but they are now the tip of the iceberg rather than everything we have. Hiebert Library has far more e-books than printed books, while digital journals and magazines have almost completely replaced their printed predecessors.

Another change since 1984 is that libraries no longer hold a monopoly on information. Back then, if I wanted to know who lost the presidential election of 1868, I would probably have used a library. Today, it took fewer than 10 seconds for Wikipedia to tell me that it was Horatio Seymour. This lost monopoly goes far beyond answering Trivial Pursuit questions. So much information, much of it carefully researched and well-written, can be found on the web today that some might wonder why libraries even still exist. If it’s all online anyway, who needs a library?

The Information Highway has absolutely changed many things about libraries. Our sets of general encyclopedias are long gone, along with address directories that probably aren’t even being published anymore. Reference librarians aren’t helping patrons find as many random facts as they once did. We have other better ways to do those things now.

But that online highway won’t get you everywhere that you need to go. Most of the books and journals needed to do serious scholarly work aren’t being given away for free. Without libraries to select and pay for those resources, the average person would completely lose access to most of the best research materials.

And do you really want to rely solely on what the web has to offer? True, a lot of valuable information is available there…but there’s also all that other stuff. And it can be really difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. Maybe you should ask a librarian to help. Librarians have increasingly turned their attention to helping patrons create effective search strategies and improving their information literacy. Our mission has transformed from simply having the information to helping you find the best information—wherever it might be. Another new role for the 21st-century library involves making available unique information, the kind that can be found nowhere else in the world. “Digital repositories” have become invaluable resources for making such content available, and Hiebert Library is actively pursuing projects of this kind. DigitalFPU contains over 20,000 photos documenting FPU history and all back issues of Pacific magazine. While only a few pieces of the library’s excellent art collection can hang on the walls at one time, you can enjoy them all online. We’ve also gathered a large selection of published scholarly work by past and present FPU faculty members and made it available at FPUScholarWorks. These are just some of the examples of how Hiebert Library is innovating creatively to accept the challenge of being a library for the 21st century, a world in which we need libraries more than ever.


Kevin Enns-Rempel, MLIS

Director of Hiebert Library