Friday, August 26, 2011

My Ideal Library

A thought experiment. Few people would really want to use this library, I imagine.
  • No printing allowed. Saves librarians hundreds of hours troubleshooting printers (I worked at a library where that was the primary use of reference desk hours), saves the networking gurus innumerable headaches, forces patrons into more reasonable and organized modes of storage (to the clouds!), environmentally-friendly. I hate printers.
  • Only open access e-resources. No proprietary vendor databases, let's see if we can make a legitimate research collection out of DOAJ, Bielefeld, PLoS, arXiv, et al. There are tons of resources out there for free, but can faculty live with that limitation?
  • Hours suited to patrons and not employees. I have this hunch—and I can't confirm it because I don't have access to everyone's circulation, reference, and traffic stats—that being closed on the weekends is more motivated by staff's desire for time off than actual usage at many libraries. Not my commuter college, as it so happens, but at many others. My local public library is closed on Sunday, when few people works, but open at 10am on a Tuesday, when most people are at their jobs. That does not make sense to me.
  • Computer & Internet literacy is taken seriously as a subset of information literacy. Too many librarians complain about teaching students to use a word processor or browser. These things are vital now! This is perhaps the element closest to realization in most libraries: many public libraries already provide computer training. Internet literacy (avoiding phishing, the best services to use, how to modify your browser) is still pretty under-taught.
  • The website would more closely resemble Google's home page than Libraries fulfill lots of roles and it's tough deciding what content deserves space on the home page. But tough choices need to be made because currently we're flooding our users with links, obscuring the useful ones amidst piles of drivel. Tabbed interfaces and aggressive use of analytics to pare down rarely used links are called for.
So am I just a curmudgeon? Or do any of these actually make sense?


I can't believe I left this off the list: only open source software on the public computers. We can run Ubuntu with Firefox, Chromium, Libre Office, GIMP, Inkscape, etc. installed. There is practically nothing that cannot be done with free software these days (certainly nothing that MS Office can do) and little reason to force our patrons into Microsoft dependency. MS dominates sheerly by default; the minute a professor accepts .odt for an assignment and tells people that there's a free alternative, the advantage is gone. What's more, with the rise of web apps, everything can be done online in an OS-agnostic environment anyways.


  1. Pretty on target, but...

    Printing: some things still need to be printed to be used (for now). Music is a great example since it needs to be able to be put on a music stand and annotated. No, electronic music stands aren't quite standard, yet.

    Hours: especially for public libraries--there are many different clientele factions, some who work or parent from home and need daytime access to the library.Or who are unemployed and need the library for job hunting. When I go to CPL or TUFL on my research days, they are both hopping with all sorts of activity from the minute they open.

    Perhaps it's good to remember (and I know you said Ideal) that one library cannot be all things to all people.

  2. Good points all. I myself went to the local PL to print out some forms after I moved, but I shouldn't have to do that! Forms are for websites.
    Re: hours, it's definitely an empirical question. I just wonder if libraries are even examining the various busyness metrics I mentioned or simply staying with the same hours they've always had. We barely get any traffic on a Friday (no classes) so it makes sense here, but some PLs I sort of doubt.