What is the Impact of Virtual Libraries on Physical Space?

March 2, 2008 at 10:21 am (virtual library)

What impact to libraries have on actual library space?  What impact do they have on planning the layout of the library?  These two questions were posed to me by a colleague who is working with the high school’s library committee to redesign their physical library space and create an online library presense. 

These questions are addressed by Lippincott (2005) in “Net Generation Students and Libraries,” a chapter in Educating the Net Generation edited by Oblinger and Oblinger.  Despite the focus on post-secondary libraries, I believe the suggestions can also be applied to school libraries.   

Environment
Lippincott says that the physical space will still remain important as it provides a place where work can be completed in a social context.  “As libraries renovate facilities incorporating technology, they are also making them more suitable for student group work, informal socializing, and ubiquitous computing.” 

Library Physical Spaces
“Students will flock to library facilities that offer environments conducive to Net Gen learners….”

“Many academic libraries are…transforming part of their physical space into information commons [example at U of T], multimedia production areas, classrooms or all three.” 

“While there is no one widely accepted definition of an information commons, generally it is a physical space, not always in a library, that incorporates many workstations,… offers workspace for individuals and groups, provides comfortable furniture, and has staff that can support activities related to access to information and use of technology to develop new products.”  “[A]s users download and stream more books online, the media center as a physical location is morphing, dovetailing with another trend…, where software exits less on a physical computer desktop, and more online…” (Barack, 2007).

“These new types of library spaces communicate a welcoming attitude to Net Gen students.  They are the opposite of old-style formal reference rooms where students were expected to sit on straight wooden chairs and work individually and silently, without access to technology.  Instead, these spaces project a comfortable, relaxed environment, a celebration of technology, and an invitation to communicate.” 

“Developing library content, services, and environments that are responsive to Net Gen students can achieved by examining the characteristics of those students and making a conscious effort to address deficiencies…”

In “Guiding the Googlers,” St Lifer (2005) asks, “If the world’s library holdings are eventually online, how do we defend the use of the physical library?  We can’t and we shouldn’t.”  I disagree!  Rather, I ask what does the space mean or represent?  Life long learning?  Celebration of new knowlege and understanding?  Community?  Love of reading?  I don’t believe that libraries will become completely virtual.  While non-fiction and periodicals may become more digitazed there will always be readers who will like to curl up with a good book! 

“Librarians can continue to use their information skills to be the gatekeepers of essential knowledge, to guide students through an ever expanding online world, and to play a leading role in honing students’ critical thinking skills and promoting inquiry-based learning.  Librarians need to help organize this frontier into something more meaningful.  Otherwise the Internet risks runs the risk of devolving into a Googlized version of virtual reality-one in which Google becomes the arbiter of what is relevant” (St Lifer, 2005).

The Shifted Librarian pointed me to Rybczynski who asks “What sort of public library does the “digital world” of Google, Wikipedia, and Kindle require?  Even though he is speaking about public libraries, I think his answer also relates to how school libraries are changing as well.  In response to Ross Dawson, a business consultant who speculates that public libraries will disappear by 2019, Rybczynski says that “in its mutating role as urban hangout, meeting place, and arbiter of information, the public library seems far from spent.  This has less to do with the digital world–or the digital word–than with the age-old need for human contact.”  As the nature of communication changes, so does the nature of libraries including school libraries. 

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