The Future of US Libraries in a Peak-Oil World
Libraries in the United States are currently facing cutbacks at the same time dealing with increased usage, resulting from economic hard times. When citizen patrons are in desperate need of information to deal with dramatic changes in their lives, they turn to libraries for the latest news to deal with these challenges.
One issue related to our economic down turn is Peak Oil. It simply means we have reached the point where we have used 50% of the known oil and that demand is increasing while supply is not. Peak Oil should never be confused with oil depletion. We will have oil for many years to come, but it’s going to become much more expensive and more scarce.
So much of the oil we use is based on societal pressures, this is especially true for our personal transportation system in the use of a motor vehicles. What will happen to our personal transportation issues of getting to work, school and the library when this activity becomes too expensive? Many citizens will have less energy to use at home and will turn to their local libraries to use Internet service and other potential costly activities.
During Peak Oil hard times, like current economic hard times only means budgets for libraries will decrease, meaning less staff and services. This will be especially true for rural public and college libraries, which currently struggle with these issues. Library hours might have to be reduced with less staffing and operating funds and the possibility of increased patrons’ usage; libraries will be stretched to their limits even more than now.
Other services that could become much more expensive could be Interlibrary loans (ILL), which relies on a courier service. With fuel costs rising, many libraries may have to limit the amount of ILLs they can receive and some smaller libraries may cancel these services. Fortunately, with the advancement in online services, ILL’s might be delivered in the form of E-books, which patrons can read online within a specified time limit.
Another valuable service for rural public libraries that may become too expensive is that of the bookmobile. With high transposition costs, many alternative energy sources will be needed to run the bookmobiles from electric-solar cell technology, vegetable oil powered engines and even possibly horse driven bookmobiles.
Operational cost of lighting and heating libraries could be a challenge as well. For lighting some of these solutions are solar panel, passive solar windows, sky-lighting, and even lanterns. For heating, fireplaces, geothermal and solar power batteries to run the furnace and to run the air-conditioning. Library staff will still use energy to run library computers, photocopies, and fax machines but solar technologies even wind turbines could be used.
Another cost issue for libraries will be maintained and developing the collection. The cost for printing books will increase and paperback books, which are disposable, are a waste of paper. Hard backs which cost more will last longer and may be a better investment. Repairing books will be more of an option and fewer books will be thrown in the trash, even if they can’t be sold in the book sale.
One possible solution is the increase in volunteerism from patrons. It’s possible some of these libraries will return to the practice of existing without librarians and must rely on others in the community to give time to the library. It’s also possible that private community subscription libraries will blossom out of someone’s house and grow from other private collections. City library systems may need to develop more and smaller community branch libraries to become more accessible to walking and bike paths, and public transportation.
These new branch libraries like rural libraries will play an even more important role as a community center as the heart and soul of the community. Overall, citizens might appreciate their libraries not only a source of information in turbulent times, but also a way to reconnect to local communities like never before.