Library as Experience

Monday, October 25, 2010

A recent article from the Wall Street Journal reported on a current trend among libraries to cut their librarians and staff in drastic ways. One of the more “innovative” ways of reducing the budget included removing all patron/staff interaction by making book ordering and delivery similar to a lock-box or vending machine type system. The reasoning behind this drastic change was not solely reliant on the current budget constraints, but rather, an attempt to mimic current technologies favored by patrons. In defense of the lock-box style of delivery, proponents cited Amazon as a current favorite among patrons. This way, the patron could browse the titles and request them from the comfort of their own home and retrieve the requested titles at their convenience without interacting with any human along the way.

The arguments against such a change include the death of the library as a “place”, the abolishment of it as a shared community space, the danger of drastically reducing our human interaction, and the loss of a uniquely American invention – the Public Library. We at Pastology argue that there would be another great loss – the library as “experience”. Despite the great advances in reading suggestions when browsing online, there is no current technology that is as thorough as LOC subject headings or as inspiring as just browsing the shelves. Serendipity is an exciting element of research, one that can be tarnished by faulty algorithms and popularity results.

When it comes to libraries, you love them, hate them or tolerate them. Most of us committed to research adore libraries. Despite a few possibly negative experiences, libraries are magical places, full of knowledge. There is that quiet solitude that is almost reverent, as though we are walking through a sacred space, and indeed, how many of us have had something akin to religious experiences in these hallowed halls? The smell of books is also something that can spark memories and inspire focus while learning. A space dedicated to learning at your own pace and dictated by your own needs, passions or fancies, is indeed a special place that should not be so quickly automated to the point of sterility.

Despite our status as a technology company, we are very dedicated to making sure your experience is one that assists, amplifies and celebrates your past. We will never advocate replacing the real experience with an electronic imitation. Technology should be used as a tool to assist, amplify, preserve, share and organize our lives, not extract the interactions and experiences that make us human. As a librarian, I personally feel that advances such as these reported in the article have their place. For convenience and a wider reach, these lock-box type systems could be used in remote areas where a full library is not possible or as a form of after hours access. In 2010, we have reached the point where technology is no longer a luxury, but has managed to weave itself into the textile of our lives. However, as convenient and vital as these technologies have become, we mustn’t let go of the past traditions that define our humanity and celebrate our cultures. Quick, grab the nearest real book, and inhale its musty scent deeply….what memories or thoughts come to mind? Unless of course you are allergic to book dust…then make your way to the nearest automated reading device and get reading! Technology and experience existing in harmony!
For your Pastology pleasure, here is a late 18th century example of early libraries in action from the Kentucky Gazette.
Happy reading wherever you prefer!
CD 10/25/10
Article: New Technologies Dispense with Librarians. By: Conor Dougherty


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