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Public Libraries in a Jobless Society

by on September 1, 2015

Can you imagine a world without work? While economists have theorized about the end of work for decades, sociologists and researchers believe that we may be moving toward a society where 30-50% of the workforce is no longer traditionally employed thanks to technology and automation.1 In the July 2015 issue of The Atlantic, Derek Thompson’s article, A World Without Work, investigates what the future will be like without a traditional workforce. In addressing changing economics coupled with adapting behaviors and values, Thompson brings up aspects that will have a profound impact on the future of public libraries.

Although the article addresses economic infrastructure, Thompson brings up some interesting points that made this librarian ponder about the evolving role of public libraries in our communities. To begin with, Thompson quotes that “most people want to work, and are miserable when they cannot. The ills of unemployment go well beyond the loss of income.”2 He relates this to an inherent need for humans to have a consistent routine that is filled with a sense of purpose, productivity, and regular socialization. Thompson continues to explain how changing technology will make the way for “communal creativity” in order to fulfill these needs. As 3D printers, laser cutters, vinyl cutters, and other maker objects become increasingly available to the general public, more people will be able to tinker, create, design, and even develop their own businesses. Even without tinker toys, our current addiction to social media proves that people enjoy creation through uploading home grown music and videos, sharing pictures, and pinning crafts on Pinterest. Thompson explains that we will move from an economy based on consumption to a “new artisanal economy…an economy geared around self-expression, where people would do artistic things with their time.”3

While this may fulfill the need to be productive and creative, Thomspon writes that we would still need to address the issue of loneliness and isolation, both as individuals and as a community. Therefore, he proposes that “local governments might do well to create more and more ambitious community centers or other public spaces where residents can meet, learn skills, bond around sports or crafts, and socialize.”4 This aligns with many public libraries that not only provide instruction and community events, but also maker opportunities.

Public libraries must evolve with society. Public libraries are no longer needed to look up basic information that can now be found on Google; instead libraries are in a position to have more meaningful, deeper relationships with our communities as their economies, needs, and goals change. No longer are public libraries simply repositories for information, but places for learning, creation, exploration, and relationship building. Above all, public libraries will become a place for people to form a sense of identity with their community.


  1. Thompson, Derek. “A World Without Work.” Atlantic 1 July 2015: 53. Print.
  2. Thompson, Derek. “A World Without Work.” Atlantic 1 July 2015: 56. Print
  3. Thompson, Derek. “A World Without Work.” Atlantic 1 July 2015: 56. Print
  4. Thompson, Derek. “A World Without Work.” Atlantic 1 July 2015: 59. Print

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