It’s a busy time for periodicals here at The Dean Files. The new issues of The New Yorker, Dwell, GOOD, ACRL News and College & Research Libraries all arrived within a few days of each other. I am working my way through these, and in an effort to get ahead of the reading, I stayed up a bit late reading the two ACRL publications. I read (and was super proud and happy to read) an article by my good friend, Erin Dorney about a “Job of a Lifetime,” which was great. One other article in particular really piqued my interest, Libraries with a Future: How Are Academic Library Usage and Green Demands Changing Building Designs? by Michael Wescott Loder. Of course, I thought to myself “Oooo, Library Design post!” but it really turned into something more than that.
I must confess some confusion as to what this article was really about – am I to believe the title, and it is about greening libraries, or is it about how the design of libraries exhibits a new user-centered approach to design? I think perhaps Loder was trying to unify the two, but never really illustrated to my satisfaction how the two are linked. However, I very much appreciate the discussions of how user focus is changing the library building. He points this out nicely on page 349:
Academic libraries are becoming physical and electronic intellectual gathering places rather than repositories of books. They are a place of choice for students and faculty wanting to get academic work done.
Although the focus of this journal (ACRL) is on academic libraries, I think this is truly a broader trend in library design and renovation. More space is devoted to user needs, and books (and other information resources) are being moved to the periphery. Not an inaccessible periphery, but books no longer hold the same top priority spot they held for so long in library design. Another (to me excellent) byproduct of this user focus is the influx of natural lighting for the user spaces. This is a byproduct of the “greening” of the building, to wit the desire to use less energy to light the building in the daytime. Of course, as a previous reader of my library design posts, you know in what high regard I hold natural light for library spaces (and in general).
However, on about page 352, I started scribbling furiously in the margins (something I never do in my books) meaning that I took issue with what was said. I’ll just go ahead and share the quotes with you, and then comment on them.
The technical functions of cataloging, processing, and catalog maintenance are a minor and declining part of a library’s functions. Technical staffs are smaller and their spaces increasingly marginalized. In several cases, technical services had been moved, or will soon move, out of the library entirely.
I ask you, readers, and the broader internet, is this true? Are “technical services” a minor part of the functions of a library? My first reaction is to ask where he got the data to support this assumption, because I would like to see it. My second reaction is to object strongly to this, as I think that the work of “technical services” is core to what librarians and libraries do. “Technical Services” staff members create metadata and present this metadata in an adaptive, manipulative environment to enable users to find what they need without searching aimlessly through the stacks. As I highlighted previously, the catalog is highly essential to a user-focused library, and so “technical services” are as important as ever to the good functioning of a library. And even if they were declining, why should they be removed from the library? Only through patron interaction (reference work) can catalogers become accustomed to and acutely aware of user needs. Taking these staff members out of the library building where the patrons are seems very counter intuitive to me.
As for the sacred refereed journal, once so carefully subscribed to, collected, and bound? Online accessibility has largely taken that expensive shelf-filler away.
From my experience, this simply is not true. Periodicals are among the most referenced and requested items at the Carter, precisely because other libraries don’t keep their periodicals. I realize that collections change over time, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater, shall we?
I think I will conclude with what I found to be the most disturbing quote from the article, on page 355:
Besides, who has time to read an entire book?
Mr. Loder, let me answer your question: I do, your fellow professionals do, and people the world over have time to read an entire book. Reading is the primary form of information consumption, and this information is found in books, read in their entirety. It is a fundamental activity for the library, and one not to be joked about – least of all in an academic journal of librarianship.