The library as a space

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

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4 Responses to The library as a space

  1. Miriam Palfrey says:

    Untrained and inexperienced staff, a high staff turnover rate, poor pay and anti-social hours. Well sounds like what TC wants for library staff…

  2. Pete says:

    Very droll πŸ™‚ Not quite the inference I wanted to draw from the analogy mind you.

  3. Miriam Palfrey says:

    I’d guessed that πŸ™‚

    How far do you want to take the pub analogy though? There is a big difference between chain pubs (once described by a friend of mine as the McPub) or pubs which serve real ale and ban mobile phones, both have their followers.

    Actually, haven’t some authorities tried having branches/ branch replacements in public houses? Perhaps I dreamed it, but I can recall reading something about it a few years ago.

  4. Pete says:

    Indeed. It was an off the cuff kind of thought, the kind I have after a couple of beers and some sugary snack treat πŸ™‚
    It’s all about ‘the offer’ and how this differs from other ways of serving what is ostensibly the same need.

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