Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Tomorrow's Libraries: Booked In

When we recently visited the Seoul Book Fair and reported on the automated library book dispenser and now we read about the inevitable automation and changes within library world.

First is Stanford's Engineering Library in the US, which has some 80,000 books but plan to cut this dramatically down to just 10,000 titles and move to an "electronic library" in a brand new Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center. The move has enabled them to radically rethink the library and after 3 years of planning the library opens this month. It is around 6,000 square feet compared to the old library’s 16,000 square feet and has an electronic reference desk with four Kindle 2 devices, a self-checkout and book security system and will have 15 ebook readers for patrons to take home like regular books. An online journal search tool will scan 28 online databases, have a grant directory and host more than 12,000 scientific journals. The library includes a digital bulletin board at the entry that will display RSS feeds updating visitors with the latest research.

Librarians will be available, but via email, online chatting and Facebook. The Association of Research Libraries reports that libraries are now spending more of their money on electronic resources and less on books.

Interestingly at the same time as Stanford embraces digital and change we learn that the UK public library in Harrow may introduce supermarket-style automated checkouts as Harrow Council looks for cost savings of around £1m a year. The change will introduce 22 book self service checkouts and force some 40 staff redundancies. A six-week consultation with library staff and unions has been started and a final recommendation is expected later in the year

So as libraries move into the digital age change is inevitable and will be far more reaching than the supply of ebooks. The core of the library, be it public, research, school, academic or corporate is being questioned. If self service prevails then the role of the librarian must change and their interfaces with the patrons change with it. The problem is that there is many cultural, technology and commercial issues and the driver of much change will be cost savings.

We believe that the library is a cornerstone of our society and culture but has lived too long trapped in yesterday’s thinking and practices and irrespective of financial constraints is ripe for change. We have reported the cost cutting across US and UK libraries and in the UK we have written a number of articles on ex Government minister Margret Hodge’s ‘Hodge Potch’ of ideas and the new government’s wary approach to change. However, as we have pointed out previously, there are significant issues not least that of ebook commercials and High Street conflict, author royalties, Inter library lending that must be discussed and resolved. The danger is we merely slip into hundreds of separate initiatives with few joined up dots and which are driven by today’s vested interested parties and not tomorrow’s patrons.

No comments: