Online access will become increasingly routine and accessible (it is to be hoped.) More and more materials are routinely available online, and so people increasingly use that medium for, e.g., encyclopedia lookups.
Since at least the 1964 Act, and for some time before, the provision of materials other than books has been recognised as part of the library’s role. So it should not be an issue that libraries provide, for example, online reference materials and other ‘remote access’ items.
As this trend of remote access increases, what value would the library have as a public space? And how would it be defined as a space- indeed as a library?
The sense of libraries as a space has been predicated on the existence of book/print materials. These items said ‘library’ to people. As these items are shifted, how can the library define itself as a unique space, and not just as a computer access point?
The persistence of books as fiction and as a ‘backup’/complement to online access is one area.
The provision of expertise via staff is another- this particularly in making online material easily accessible. Also the provision of as wide a range of material as possible. The very existence of committed and educated staff is a key factor.
The mediation of materials via well designed and ‘branded’ websites is another.
My concern about ‘mission creep’ is that libraries can easily define themselves out of a role, even as we speak of them as a ‘public space.’
Edit– last night I was thinking this over. Is a library like a pub? After all you can get alchohol for home consumption, yet people still drink out. Why? The other things a pub can provide. Sociability, a wide range of drinks you may not be able to get elsewhere, expertise… Perhaps this is the way forward for libraries as they become more electronic- services to complement resource access. /edit