It seems an unofficial theme of “the library as a place” is going around. From T. Scott Plutchak’s Janet Doe lecture today to talking to librarians who round at lunch yesterday to talk of closing the reference desk at the Rethinking Libraries in Hard Times session this afternoon, everyone seems to be saying the library as a physical space doesn’t exist anymore. Or shouldn’t exist or can’t exist depending on who you talk to. This is not an uncommon idea in any sort of library circles and an argument we’ve all been hearing for quite some time.
But what I haven’t heard much talk about (in sessions or just in conversation) is a defense of the library as a space. Arguments from those of us who have active, vital physical libraries. So I’m here to take up the banner, at least for my own library.
The majority of my library users are residents and attending physicians. Some do their own searching, some don’t. Some only use UpToDate to answer clinical questions, some prefer me to do a quick search. Some like their articles hand delivered to their office, some will only accept them via email. But they all have one thing in common: they like to pop by and ask me questions. I have very few users whom I have never seen personally, and those that I haven’t, it’s because their practice is outside the hospital.
My library has a steady stream of visitors all day. Surgical residents who drop by to take a look at an atlas, faculty members who come by with research questions, busy clinicians who use what little free time they have to peruse the latest copy of a print journal. The common thread here is that they are visiting a physical space with physical resources and working with me, live and in person.
I’m rarely out of the office because I don’t know when I’ll be called upon to help answer a question or locate a resource. The library itself is open 24 hours a day and stats show that it is used 24 hours a day. And by the number of books scattered around in the mornings, they aren’t coming in to use the computers.
So in my hospital the physical library is necessary. I’m sure, after an adjustment period (probably full of complaining docs), we could move to a virtual library and I could roam the halls providing library services to those in need. But this model works for my hospital and my patrons. So I am defending (and will continue to do so) the library as a place in my institution.
Debate time: what are your thoughts on the matter? Could you move to a mostly virtual library? Have you already done so?