or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

A Few Current Ideas and Trends in Libraries

   March 14th, 2013

If you haven't seen it already, please take a minute to check out Jessamyn's picture-laden post on some really great ideas currently happening in the library world.

Awesome Box: Return Awesome Stuff HereI point to her post because I had a couple of these in my to-blog folder, but, not surprisingly, she hits the important points much more concisely than I would (but I'll add my two cents anyway).

The Awesome Box
This idea circulated around my library a few weeks ago, and we all agreed it indeed is an awesome idea, and we want to make it happen here. We're in the (early) process of adding an Awesome Box to our circulation desk, and once it's there, I'll update people on patrons' reactions (which I am very curious to see).

Blind Date With a Book
Blind Date with a BookAnother good idea that was new-to-me recently (around St. Valentine's Day), was a lot of libraries doing "blind date with a book." The idea is for staff to choose good books, and then wrap them so patrons don't know what it is. Some libraries put a little information on the cover, but basically the point is for the patron to read this book blind (so to speak) - and, hopefully, enjoy something they may not have otherwise checked out. (By the way, this wasn't in Jessamyn's post, but I like it anyway.)

Non-Traditional Collections/Next Generation Libraries
Jessamyn pointed out that there is such a thing as the West Seattle Tool Library - unfortunately, I don't think there is an Awesome Box big enough for this. I like the trend of makerspaces in libraries (like in Westport, CT), and this is sort of in that same vein. Also too, I think non-traditional collections (like seed libraries) are a great idea.

I have also been collecting links about "Next Generation Libraries" - you know, the bookless type that are nothing but rows and rows of computers and the collection is all ebooks. Here's a few I've bookmarked:

On San Antonio's Bexar County Public Library:

Other varieties of new tech trends in libraries

I'm certainly not a Luddite (well...) and generally don't shy away from evolution and change, but this picture really bothered me:

Bibliotech representation

My library has rows of public computers too, but this picture makes these terminals (and the library overall) look so cold and isolating - not to mention the stools look designed to be uncomfortable and unwelcoming.

But anyone can pick out the pros and cons of a particular instance of a trend, so I decided to focus on what my library would be like if we went bookless.

I started with the obvious: maintaining access to information, which is a core library mission. The current state of ebooks is barely tolerable, primarily because not all ebooks are available to libraries. Which means we'd probably need to purchase ebooks as a consumer and load them on physical devices (which itself is not exactly a model made for libraries).

Anyway, if we were going to be providing devices, and expected to maintain our same level of service and circulation, the number of devices we'd need to purchase depended on our circulation. A one-day snapshot showed that we had 3,142 patrons with at least one item checked out.

That number is kind of sobering, and leads me to think that there is no realistic way we could afford to make this switch and still provide our patrons with access to all the titles they want to read, watch, and listen to. I'm certainly not denying the trend, nor the success that some libraries have had with a bookless model, but it doesn't seem like we'd be able to accomplish this any time soon.

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4 Responses to “A Few Current Ideas and Trends in Libraries”

  1. Mandi Says:

    Personally, I would not support a bookless model. Professionally, I manage the electronic resources at an academic library, and I’ve found that each user’s personal computer has different settings and programs. This can cause very strange errors that are difficult to diagnose and can be very frustrating for our users. Personally, I live out in the sticks without “real internet” so I would definitely shy away from downloading ebooks, simply due to a slow and expensive internet connection. Older users may find the ebook software daunting, and the multiple formats confusing (“Which one do I download?”). On top of that, users will likely need some sort of device on which to load the books for reading, unless they enjoy reading them off their computer screen (and can get them in a compatible format).

    Overall, I feel that ebook-only libraries are encouraging the digital divide; to me, this goes against what libraries are about: access for all.

    As for other non-traditional collections (tools, seeds, cake pans, etc), I think that’s a marvelous idea! And the awesome box is simply, well, awesome!!

    Keep up the good work 🙂

  2. Jennifer Says:

    Ok…if I am stuck behind that desk (from which there appears to be no exit) how am I going to help people print, log into their email, and troubleshoot the endless crashing, bugs, and other million things that go wrong with the computers? How will I be able to show people that the computer is not broken, they can’t type numbers because the number lock is off?

  3. Mara Says:

    I’m the one who goes around inserting the word ‘paper’ in front of ‘book’ on bulletin board articles about libraries with “no books.” This despite the fact that I do not own an e-reader. There are virtues in both, and this is not an either-or situation.

  4. The Librarian With No Name Says:

    My thoughts on the bookless library picture:

    1. If my city’s library system installed a bookless library, it would be in a low-income neighborhood with few other options for computer use. The image looks like it’s trying to look like an Apple Store, which is basically a shrine for those already deeply enmeshed in technology. My main design goal would be to make the place look non-threatening and welcoming to those who are already intimidated by the need to use technology they might not be familiar with.

    2. If I didn’t have all these bookshelves everywhere, I’d use the space to give people a decent amount of elbow room and desk space.

    3. Focusing too hard on the “bookless” aspect might be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. For example, I see no reason not to include a reserve area for patrons to request books from other libraries and a small reference section for the sort of information that is still hard to find in electronic format. You’d still be doing away with most of the collection development and shelving without completely cutting our little library off from the main strengths of a library.

    4. That ghost looks so uncomfortable on that stool. He’s going to give himself phantom lower back pain.