The Library As a Place

by Elizabeth on May 17, 2011 · 3 comments

in conferences, librarianship, libraries

In case you missed it, I’m attending the Medical Library Association conference in Minneapolis this week.  I’ve been chosen as an official conference blogger and will be blogged a couple of times a day on my experiences as a new member and first time conference attendee.  I know most of you won’t be following me on the official conference blog, so I will be reposting my posts here.

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?

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Katie S May 17, 2011 at 3:38 pm

I cannot imagine a world in which the library does not exist as a physical space. No matter how many electronic resources we have/provide, it is the books that give a library that special atmosphere that filled me with wonder as a child, that made me fall in the love with the library, and that make me come back time and time again. I don't ever want to lose that tangible connection to learning and knowledge, to a medium that has served us so well over the ages. But that's just me.


2 Julie @ Read Handed May 20, 2011 at 1:10 pm

My library is that of a small health sciences graduate university and our physical space gets so much use that we have just purchased two more tables because we've run out of places for people to sit. Like you in your library, the people we serve don't have to go out of their way to get to the library – it's just a couple of steps from their classrooms. I think that has a lot to do with the consistent use our library gets as a physical space.


3 LibGirl09 May 20, 2011 at 3:01 pm

I can't imagine a world in which the library is not a physical space either. I don't work in a medical library (yet), but I recently visited a hospital library. I spent almost eight hours there shadowing librarians, and I saw medical staff came in and out all day long. Some to request assistance from librarians, some to use computers, and some to just find a quiet spot to read or study. This particular library has been transitioning some of their serials from print to electronic, which has allowed them to weed the print collection and remove shelving to provide additional much needed physical space in the library. Physical space will always be needed in my opinion.


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