libraries improve the front end

PCLpatio.gif There’s a nice article in yesterday’s NY Times on how some university libraries are rethinking how they arrange their space – moving, or redistributing print collections to make way for an “electronic information commons.” It’s not about abandoning the books, or relegating them to a lesser status. It’s more about re-positioning them as a sort of physical database. If a library is a big computer, than the database exists toward the back end. These days, digging through the stacks, even if it results in a paper return, is generally done digitally. That’s the front end, or the interface, and this is what smart libraries are seeking to improve. Research and scholarly production may be going digital, but the social, conversational space of the university, and in turn, the library, is still vital. The strategy for the libraries, then, is to restructure and expand that space as a compelling social software environment – one that is both physical and virtual. Sounds good in theory, but I’m not sure that’s how these facilities will actually be used. Turning libraries into a hi-tech rec center might be sacrificing more than it saves.
The article focuses on reorganization efforts at the University of Texas at Austin. Press release here concerning the transformation of the Flawn Academic Center (likely a more durable link than the Times story).
(image: Perry-Castañeda Library at UT Austin)