The Future of Libraries. Will They Change?

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a serious impact on all kinds of businesses in the last year. Libraries are no exception.

Has your local library been closed to the public to help prevent the spread of the virus? Now that a vaccine has been introduced, have you wondered how the future of libraries will change as we move forward?

Read on to learn more about what libraries will look like as the world shifts toward a “new normal.”

Libraries and the Pandemic: What’s Changed?

There are many ways that libraries have changed in response to the pandemic. The following are some of the most noteworthy changes we’ve seen so far:

Limited Reading Spaces

Reading a book while sitting on floor

In the case of libraries that have stayed open or reopened during the pandemic, there’s been a decrease in the amount of reading space available (if any is available at all).

Not too long ago, libraries were places where people could go to read, watch movies, use the computer, and just relax for as long as they pleased. Now, things are different.

Lingering for hours at a time isn’t as accepted as it once was, and those who are hanging out inside have surely noticed a change in their experience.

Some libraries have installed dividers, for example, to create more space between patrons and encourage proper social distancing. Others have removed furniture with the same goal of separating visitors and minimizing the risk of spreading germs.

Increased Access to Online Resources

Prior to the pandemic, many libraries were already experimenting with lending online resources (eBooks, audiobooks, etc.) through digital platforms.

As COVID-19 cases continued to spread and libraries were forced to close their doors, they started to ramp up accessibility to these digital books. Some also offered virtual access to other media, including movies and TV shows.

Expanding their borrowing options has helped libraries to continue serving their communities during this difficult time.   

Curbside Services

Many restaurants and bars have been able to keep their doors open during the last year by offering curbside pick-up services.

Several libraries throughout the world saw the success of these businesses and quickly followed suit. They began offering patrons who prefer to read physical books or borrow other tangible items the chance to check out online and then pick things up outside in-person.

It’s unclear whether or not curbside services will continue once it’s safer for people to spend time indoors at places like libraries again. For now, though, it seems to be a useful solution for those who want to borrow books or other items while also staying safe and maintain their distance from groups of people.

More Forgiveness

Libraries, in general, aren’t exactly known for being forgiving when it comes to late returns. In the wake of COVID-19, though, many libraries have become more understanding.

Lots of libraries have waived late fees to accommodate patrons, especially those who are struggling financially and cannot afford to pay their fines.

Many libraries are also being more forgiving when it comes to library card expiration dates. They’re giving people additional time to renew their cards and are doing whatever they can to help patrons continue borrowing books and experiencing all the joys that libraries have to offer.

What to Expect from the Future of Libraries

Every day, more people are getting vaccinated and starting to feel more comfortable venturing out of their houses again. That being said, it’s likely that a lot of public spaces, including libraries, will never go back to operating exactly the same as they did before.


Here are some of the expected ways that libraries of the future will be different from current and past versions:

Increases in Touchless Amenities

As they open back up to the public, businesses of all kinds have been working hard to minimize touchpoints and prevent the spread of germs. Motion-activated doors are becoming more common, and so are tools like touchless paper towel and soap dispensers in bathrooms.

Libraries are likely going to increase the number of touchless amenities they have available, too. In addition to basics like motion-activated doors and lights, libraries might also start to offer more self-checkout stations. This will help to prevent person-to-person contact with library workers and, as a bonus, speed up the checkout process overall.  

Improvements to App Development

As we mentioned above, libraries were already using digital platforms to lend resources like eBooks and audiobooks pre-pandemic. Some also had their own apps that they were using to lend out materials and connect with patrons.

In the future, more libraries will likely start to out apps to streamline the borrowing process and accommodate those who want to continue staying home and social distancing.

These apps will surely be better developed moving forward than they are now. For example, they may offer more features and increase access to additional resources so that patrons have more available to read, watch, or listen to.

Increased Focus on Community Services

Libraries have long served as havens for members of the community.

Before the pandemic, it was not uncommon for people experiencing homelessness to spend time in the library to get out of inclement weather and enjoy some peace and quiet.

For the last year, though, many libraries have been closed to the public altogether. Those that have reopened are also offering limited seating and discouraging lingering for long periods of time.

Despite the fact that, in the last year, they haven’t always been able to serve communities in the way they once did, libraries are still focused on doing what they can to help those in need. That focus will continue in the future, too.

For example, some libraries have partnered with local schools and other organizations. They’re working to provide resources to students studying from home, as well as adults who have lost their jobs and need help applying for new ones.

Increases in Open Spaces and Dividers

In the future, library floors and reading rooms will likely take on a much more modern style.

A lot of clutter has already been eliminated from libraries that are open to the public in an effort to keep up with social distancing guidelines. The result has been a more minimalist, streamlined layout with lots of space between chairs and tables.

Moving forward, libraries may be able to take some of their furniture out of storage and accommodate a few more people in the building at a time. However, it’s likely that things will never go back to being as close as they once were.

People have gotten used to being six feet apart from each other, after all. That probably won’t change anytime soon, either.

Changes in Restroom Setups

One reason libraries are havens to much of the world’s homeless population is the fact that most of them offer free access to clean restrooms. In the age of COVID, many library administrators have struggled to figure out how they can continue providing restroom access to all without sacrificing safety and cleanliness.

One proposed solution that some libraries plan on implementing is to offer single-person restrooms, or “roomlets.” Each roomlet would contain a toilet, sink, mirror, and everything a person needs all contained in one space.

The introduction of single-person restrooms allows for reduced contact between users. It will also help to make libraries safer spaces for members of the LGBTQ+ community, including transgender and nonbinary individuals.

Updated Library Furniture

In the future, library furniture will likely look very different than it once did. Instead of squishy,  well-loved, and well-used couches and armchairs, libraries may start to transition to more modern, streamlined furniture that is easier to clean.

The pandemic has helped us all to become more accustomed to wiping down surfaces before and after using them. That habit probably isn’t going to go away moving forward, either.

As a result, there’s a good chance that library patrons will feel more comfortable using furniture that can easily be wiped down and sanitized to reduce the spread of germs.

More Access to the Outdoors

Finally, libraries may expand, literally, to include more access to outdoor spaces.

The pandemic has shown us the beauty of spending more time outside. As a result, lots of people may opt to go outdoors more often after realizing how nice it is to breathe in some fresh air and feel the sun on their skin.

To accommodate these folks and allow more people to utilize the library without the space becoming too crowded, libraries may establish patios or other outside spaces designed for reading and studying.

If they do take this approach, they’ll surely expand their Wi-Fi reach, too, to ensure that patrons have access to fast internet while they’re on the premises. 

Rethinking Libraries 

It’s clear that libraries have changed in response to the pandemic. We’re going to see more changes moving forward, too.

The way we borrow books might be different in the future. However, it’s safe to say that libraries themselves aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, especially if administrators make an effort to continue innovating.