From the Director: The Past, Future, and Present of the Library

by Michael J. Paulus Jr.

Last quarter I taught a University Seminar on the history and future of the book. Near the end of the course, we visited the Seattle Public Library’s Central Library, which opened in 2004, and we discussed the three major challenges the building was designed to address: First, what is the place of legacy print materials? Second, how should space be shaped for new and emerging technologies? And, finally, what types of spaces do library patrons need in a 21st century library?

These questions concern the past, future, and present of the institution that we call “the library”: How do libraries of all types bring historical collections forward in space and time? How do libraries construct spaces that incorporate new technologies and are open to future possibilities? And how do libraries create places where people in the present can interact with the convergence of past patterns and future potentialities of knowledge?

On the final exam for my class, I asked my students to articulate what would be important to them if they were to design a library. Collectively, they wrote about the need for a critical mass of resources (including books in various formats); the need for spaces to interact with knowledge and each other; the need for technologies with which to create; and the need for human guides to help them discover and use resources. These are the essential components of every great library that was, that is, and that is to come, and they are written into the mission statement of the SPU Library: “The SPU Library provides collections, instruction, tools, spaces, and personnel to advance teaching, learning, and scholarship at Seattle Pacific University.” Although that statement was written last year, it could have been written many years ago — or it could be rewritten many years from now.

This article was originally published in the Friends of the Library Newsletter, Spring 2013. Anyone interested in signing up for the newsletter should contact

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