Regardless of whether you love this concept, or hate it, the University of Michigan’s Medical School may have just laid out the future of the Librarian as “Informationist.”

In its announcement regarding the opening of the new A. Alfred Taubman Health Sciences Library (THSL), U-M Med School removed all of the books, and bookshelves, and created a 137,000 square foot “natural light-filled medical education hub that supports in-person, collaborative, active learning.”

Books are off-site and available via “rapid delivery upon request.”

The Library is staffed by “Informationists” that serve the University and general public to access the “stored knowledge of medical and health science.”

Space is for learning, training, teaching, connecting, simulation, and collaboration. Not simply for housing “stored knowledge.”

I, for one, like this concept. I like the idea of having Informationists. I like storing massive amounts of books off-site and focusing more on digital access, and quick retrieval of information from a stored location. I like the idea of using the space for hands-on training, collaboration, and interaction.

I know that there are some things that are missing. The happenstance of browsing the shelves and coming upon the one book that has the answer that you would have missed online. The ability to sit in the middle of a quiet area of the library and study without people having a disruptive discussion. The ability to find a spot deep in the shelves and hideaway from the rest of the world.

All of that has been replaced with digital catalogs, and study rooms (probably with big glass windows and lots of outdoor lighting.)

Despite this, and other things that may disappear with this style of library, I think this is the future. If we do not embrace this, or something similar that creates a more interactive space, then libraries will not evolve, they will shrink and disappear. Traditional Librarian roles will struggle to maintain, but Informationists or the next iteration of engaged and interactive Librarian will thrive and innovate their way into the future.

Watch the video of the ideals behind the new library design. As you are watching it, think about how the concepts apply to your library space and service strategy. Replace “medical” with “legal.” Replace “school” with “court” or “firm.” Think big and imagine what you could do beyond storing and retrieving knowledge in your own library.

When students come to the University of Michigan, they don’t just think about becoming a doctor, a medical scientist, or a health professional; they think about making the world a better place.

Now we’ve created a better place for them. A place to learn, to connect, and to grow.

Welcome to the new, vastly improved Taubman Health Sciences Library.

What was once a traditional library has been transformed into a light-filled, technology-driven, dynamic learning space. Our students envision a future where learning, technology, and passion combine to help patients, and enhance the public’s health. So we designed the renovation with those same ideals in mind.

Now students and their professors can connect and learn in dozens of classrooms, small group rooms, simulated patient care rooms, and an all-digital library environment. 

The building allows students from different health profession programs to come together in new ways. To learn how to care for patients as a team. To problem solve. And, to learn from one another, as well as faculty. 

For our medical students, the renovation means a quantum leap – as big as their innovative new curriculum. Here, they will learn the core principles of doctoring to prepare them to become members of outstanding patient care teams at the University’s nearby hospitals and clinics. The walls and tables will become canvases for their ideas and questions. They can even spend time in the new medical student lounge. 

Rows of bookshelves may have vanished from this library building, but the vast holdings of one of the nation’s best medical libraries are still available for rapid delivery upon request. 

The Library’s Informationists are still here to help the university community and the general public access and use the stored knowledge of medical and health science. For those who learn and those who teach it’s all about making the world a better place, one place at a time. [emphasis added]