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The Magical Library

People sure do get worked up about weeding. The fetishization of the book is the usual reason, which is also why people try to donate the old Reader’s Digest Condensed Books found in their deceased grandmother’s attic. Somebody must want these!

In the comments to my last post on weeding, my attitude was supposedly “representative of everything that is wrong with the ‘future of academic libraries.’” I’ve been called worse.

Another reader waxed lyrical about the benefits of browsing library stacks, which nobody ever has denied.

Supposed, also, it’s the faculty’s “role to weigh in on these processes if they choose (especially in weeding projects as extensive as this one was), and it is absolutely our role to solicit and respond to their feedback.”

I have to wonder if this reader has ever sought feedback from any faculty about weeding. Or, even worse, about which journals to cut, which I gather used to be a big topic at a lot of universities back in the day.

There’s really no reason to seek feedback, because the answer is always the same. Don’t weed. Don’t cut anything. I need to browse!!

What connects all these responses and the hundreds like them from around the country is the lack of any practical alternative.

Given that colleges and universities very rarely allocate money for more library space, there are only a few options I see for such libraries.

1) Stop buying books.

That’s actually a pretty easy one these days as library budgets have barely recovered from the recession and what’s left goes for other things.

2) Buy ebooks instead.

This option is popular with librarians. You can’t physically browse them, but you can search in them, and that’s something.

3) Continue buying books, but move older or lesser used books offsite somewhere.

That doesn’t solve the browsing problem, but it at least keeps the books relatively handy. However, it’s pretty expensive, and as far as I can tell only big research libraries are investing in this sort of thing.

It’s a big leap of faith, too. “Hmm, this book hasn’t been checked out in 30 years. Should we put it in offsite storage and forget about it just in case?” For most libraries, that’s just money down the drain.

4) Build a magical library.

That’s really the only solution that would please everybody.

A few years ago I recommended a TARDIS library that was bigger on the inside. But you know what that means? Lots of walking, and people are lazy.

Instead of an infinitely large library that holds all the books everybody wants, the library could just be one section of shelves per library patron.

The patron stands in front of the shelves and the books they might want to browse magically appear on them. Then, when they’ve finished browsing that selection, a new selection would appear. They could just swipe their hands or press a button.

It would be perfect. Patrons could browse indefinitely and never have to move.

Even better, it could just be two to three shelves of books at the eye height of the patron. That way tall patrons wouldn’t have to stoop and short patrons wouldn’t have to stretch.

To make it even more magical, the books shown on the magical shelves could somehow be sorted. They could see books on a particular subject, or that contained a particular phrase, or something like that. Whatever the patron wanted to see.

To the magical library, add a magical budget that also buys all the books in the world, or maybe let you see every book that every library owns so that you can at least know it exists.

That’s a lot of books in a lot of languages, but the magical shelves can take care of that by showing books only in languages the patrons read. If you read English and French, you get the books in English and French.

This is so brilliant, I don’t know why nobody ever thought of it before.

If only there was some sort of tool that allowed you to find almost every book owned by not just your library but thousands of other libraries, and let you sort them by title, subject, language, author, maybe by the date published and stuff like that.

Also, it would be visible at your eye height, so you’d never have to stretch or stoop to see the book title. And when you wanted to see more books, you could swipe your hand or click a button.

Browsing a particular set of shelves in a particular library is always hit or miss. The library might not own the relevant books, or they might be checked out or misplaced, or any number of other things.

But with this magical library, it wouldn’t matter. The library patron could still know that such a book exists even if a physical copy wasn’t available right that moment in that library.

That would be a pretty magical library, and let’s hope some enterprising library-related group starts working on that soon. OCLC seems like a good choice.

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Comments

  1. Library Lady says:

    I totally LOL’ed as I read this :P And it reminded me of a comment that was made in a recent survey to collect opinions about the academic library I work at…that comment was something along the lines of “I wish the library had a database of all of the books that they have.” I kid you not!

    • Skipbear says:

      Totally get that. I really appreciate the tiny fraction of our faculty who actually are engaged with the library in any way other to complain that we can’t magically materialize everything they want and have everything they need including being their substitute teachers.

  2. Skipbear says:

    It seems our patrons have deemed library books magical so why not keep them in a magic library? Our books are magic for loads of reasons. They exist out the space-time continuum. They cost absolutely nothing to buy. Happy little elves conjure them up already catalogued and processed right on the magic shelves. If you take one of these books out, you never have to return it unless you want to years later. You have to return it unless your moving and really need to lighten your boxes of books. Besides the elves will just make more.

  3. Kathy S says:

    And don’t forget the magical ability to search by book cover!

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