I have a continuing interest in the Library as Place.  It’s a theme that I touched upon repeatedly during library school and one of the main reasons that I pursued this career.  I believe strongly that creating an inviting intellectual and creative space has much to do with what people get out of libraries.

There’s been a lot of talk over the past decade or so about libraries taking successful retail models such as Barnes & Noble for inspiration in this regard, sometimes to unnecessary extremes.  Just a few months ago the Maricopa Library System in Arizona even proposed dismantling the DDC in favor of a bookstore-type classification system. 

Ironically, at the same time it seems that the bookstores themselves are feeling the economic repercussions of being too comfortable and considering returning to more traditional digs, sans the cushy couches where customers can use the merchandise without paying.  This is traditionally where the library steps in – more powerfully than ever now that we have learned important lessons about creating spaces where people choose to go, even if that means buying new furniture and allowing food and drinks.

Effective online library “places” are working to become more comfortable as well. Most OPACs are hindered by cumbersome text-only displays. While many of our patrons inhabit only our online places, this is something like the equivalent of a library consisting entirely of a card catalog. Maybe this is slowly changing. For example, Book Shelf View is an idea developed by Sandra Rotenberg of the Solano Community College Library in California. Basically, it is a visual keyword search where the results display as highlighted books on actual shelves in the stacks that can be browsed. Like browsing physical library shelves, the idea plays upon the benefits of collocation and serendipity. You could “pick up” the books and skim the contents by clicking on the spine. What a great idea!

Other musings on the subject of the improved ILS have saturated the literature of late, with some notable ideas such as Marshall Breedings’ Next Generation Library Catalogs which discusses, among other things, web overlay functionality in detail.

While I may prefer to browse physical libraries and read physical books, I understand the desire of patrons to do both online, with (nearly) equal functionality. E-books have long been a reality, why not a true E-library? Why should online users be denied Library as Place (even if they have to provide their own cushy couches)?