Friday, 30 September 2011

Robots in the library? Whatever next...?

CLRC Unconferece
Yesterday I attended the Central New York Library Resources Council Unconference on the topic of library space and place.  This was a round table event attended by librarians from academic and public libraries, Professor Hurst-Wahl from the iSchool and an architect interested in designing libraries.

We covered so much ground that it would be very impractical to write it all down here but I intend to focus on a couple of the points, which I found most interesting.  As my first conference in America it was interesting to sit back and observe the differences between Cambridge libraries and the academic institutions over here.  For example, everyone was very impressed that Michael Poulin of Colgate (not the toothpaste) managed to hit 85% of his freshers with library information - compare this with almost 100% in Cambridge with specialised subject tours given by staff who were knowledgeable in that field.  This means that the Cambridge students had an opportunity to get to know one of the library staff and feel like they had a welcoming point of contact if they needed assistance over their time at the college.  I am realising more and more that I (and indeed the students at John's) was rather spoiled back in Cam!

Colgate University

Mike Poulin gave a short presentation (this conference was a bit like the TeachMeet in Cambridge) on the renovation of Colgate University Library.  They have recently installed LASR (Library Automated Storage and Retrieval), which is also used at Missouri Kansas and Chicago Universities, but was originally designed as a system for storing and retrieving frozen turkeys.  You can view a video demonstrating the working of the LASR on the link above and if it looks familiar then that's because it is on the front of this month's Library Journal and the article can be read here.  Pretty interesting stuff.

LASR Retrieval by Ellbeecee, on Flickr

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  Ellbeecee 

What I found particularly interesting, and indeed it caused me to prick myself with my free conference pencil, was the fact that class marks are really redundant in this new fangled technology.  All of the Dewey books are in the LASR storage but they are not shelved by class mark but by size.  This is ok, I thought, they must be in class mark order within size but no.  When a book is returned to LASR it is assigned to the nearest bin with space thus the books are totally random and will not return to where they came from.  So what is the point in the class mark?  The books are not on the shelves to be browsed so why assign one?  The only use that was mentioned in discussion was that this can still be used to show the subject and can be used online to show relationships between items but then, subject headings assigned in cataloguing can do that too - is this the beginning of the end for the class mark?  I sure hope not since I have become rather attached to the labelling machine at John's.

Flippancy aside, this is a very different way of running a library.  Mike pointed out that students are more keen to read books from the LASR since they get to order it up and the books are brought to the desk for them while looking on a shelf is extra effort.  This sounds distinctly like a return to the old forms of libraries where the books were out of bounds and it was up to librarians to fetch them for members.  An interesting development.

SUNY Geneseo

We had a brief discussion about the Milne Library at Geneseo and the ethos of community that the library exudes.  The study rooms can be booked out to all sorts of student societies from work related groups to yoga.  This allowed the library to become a hub of activity and several university departments are keen to be affiliated with or work in the library.  This is apparently chiefly due to the librarian and his personality. This is all fine and well but what happens when he is no longer in charge?  A personality is not enough to maintain an ethos once that person has gone.  How can we use architecture as a means to bring a community ethos into a building?  Should this ethos be part of the 'mission' of the library?  Would that mean that staff to come would be as successful in implementing it as the original librarian?  I suppose you don't know until you try.

So those are a couple of the topics that stuck out to me and below I have added a few points to outline the other subjects that we touched on, all very compelling but there was just too much to write here!

  • entrances of libraries are not always obvious or welcoming (take Bird as an example) so librarians need to work on getting people into the building - related to this was a discussion of handicapped access, which should not only provide access but provide dignified access

Bird Library 『鳥』圖書館 by jiashiang, on Flickr
You will note that the entrance is under the level of the road
 - it feels like you are going down into a bunker

Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  jiashiang 
  • libraries need to deal with criminals on parol who may use the library in breach of their parol terms
  • libraries as the 'Third Space' (see previous post)
  • librarians have to work with others in the community/university in order to provide best service
  • if libraries are to be in partnership then do they have to alter their 'mission'?
  • the need to design libraries with the library of 15 years in the future in mind i.e. lots of moveable furniture and no permanent changes so that the library is always ready to adapt without full renovation necessary
  • there will always be slight issues overcoming the differences between librarians and IT people - the differences do not need to be as large as we think.  Inter-subject courses in the iSchool are directed at combating this potential issue

1 comment:

  1. The University of Chicago (where I worked for the past three years) just opened a new library annex that has a system very similar (if not exactly like) LASR.

    If you're interested in reading more:

    The tour was fascinating, and the idea behind the organizational system is that, for the time being, the only items that will be going into Mansueto are indexed online, so the collection needn't be browsable.