“A room without books is like a body without a soul” so said Cicero (below), although I’m pretty confident that he would have excluded business books from his analogy had they been around in the 1st Century BC.
Despite my unapologetic focus on our electronic resources here within Library Services at Cambridge Judge Business School, I have spent quite a bit of time recently considering the future of our printed collections and the space within our physical Library. I’ve always called it the ‘physical Library’ due to my conviction that its only part of what defines our service, and I’ve always disliked it as a space. This is largely because, to the uninitiated, the layout and look of the space here suggests a traditional set-up with a strong emphasis on printed books and journals, that wouldn’t look out of place in a college (or even a school) rather than a modern specialist business school library. The book shelves in particular are very prominent and take up two-thirds of the available ground floor space.
Despite this, printed materials currently account for only 15% of total resource spend, compared to a whopping 80% on e-resources. Although in the time I’ve been here (2.5 years now) it has been possible to alter the activities of the Library team in line with this significant division of expenditure, the physical space cannot be changed so easily and the impression it gives is now detracting, or at the very least distracting, users from our core activities and service objectives.
Morrell Boone’s description of a Library as “no longer simply a monastery full of books and journals for scholars but marketplaces competing for clients by offering different arrays of services” (Boone, M., (2003) Monastery to marketplace, Library Hi-tech) encapsulates perfectly the global paradigm shift in library space over the last decade and is closer to the reality of the service I want to manage, however, our current physical Library neither suggests nor allows it. The challenge before me (in which I’m sure I’m not alone) is how to change the interior of my physical library according to: our current activities; the needs of our users;and the competition and threats we face: while at the same time, altering the overall emphasis from preservation, classification and storage, to access, communication and delivery.
I definitely would not advocate doing away with the physical Library altogether, despite the fact that our number of remote enquiries well exceeds those taken in person, because I still regard physical contact with our users as important. Any opportunity we have to point a user in the direction of our premium resources and give them some much-needed information skills instruction needs to be grasped firmly, especially as this physical contact usually proves what wonderfully helpful and insightful beings us librarians are and invariably prompts the subject to come back to experience more of the same.
Although I am certain that the physical Library here is a poor advert for our service, and despite my penchant for banging on about how we can’t expect students to come to us anymore (the Mohammed and mountains bit), during this academic year our footfall has increased by some 35%, proving conversely that this year’s intake do! This is a neat and unassailable argument for keeping the physical space but a less convincing one for spending money on its re-organisation. Hence the need for a recent survey of all our users to gather their opinions on the physical Library…
The survey went out in tandem with a discussion paper in which I detailed the current problems with the physical space as I saw them and asked questions such as whether we should: introduce social (groupwork) space, move the book collection to a compact rolling stack, try to fit in more study desks etc. I also sought data on the way they currently use the space.
The survey rather unsurprisingly revealed that: staff assistance at the desk; study space; and use of our terminals for premium and general web resources were the most common activities, while use of the printed book and journals collections was relatively low (supporting my argument that these collections do not currently earn their space).
As for future use, the majority respondents wanted more study space and for it to be more comfortable (and to come in a wider variety of shapes and sizes); and did not object to the idea of re-housing the book collection. However, respondents were dead against the prospect of social space. Having been requested to slide a scale between 0 (‘absolutely silent’) and 6 (‘group work permitted’), an average score of 1.4 was recorded, which equates to ‘very quiet’ or ‘near silent’.
So where does that leave the service, well I’m replete with user views on the space and handily they are largely in agreement with my own, so now it’s just time for that little matter of securing agreement for the refurbishment money. The day I’ll be happy to take a new user on a tour of the physical Library may still be some time off.