Sunday, March 18, 2007

The books done gone...


It is the last day of spring break, the mid-point of the semester, one of those dreamy timeless days, cloudy, moist, spring everywhere, but you can't tell what time it is unless you look at a clock. Dennis heads back to Houston today. I have a list of "must finish" items for school next week, but overall, it's a lazy, beautiful day, if not the sunny one I would have asked for.

I had a lot of time to think about what I want to do with my trip to France, with my research focus over the next 2 to 3 years. That reflective time is in short supply generally. I was talking with Peg the other day about the course lineup that is beginning to take shape for fall and spring for next year. It's entirely composed of research methods courses and research theory. Many of the methods courses involve implementing what you learn by doing small research projects of your own choosing using the methods studied. That should allow me to break down my larger research interests into small pieces that I can use to further the overall goals. I've been very frustrated by the lack of focus on research this semester. Neither of my iSchool classes lends itself to research papers. They are both project-based where the project is entirely defined by the professor. Practical experience is definitely a good thing, it's just that I'm anxious to get on to other things.

Anyway, I've got a lot to accomplish in the next 7 weeks, including making all the arrangements for the France trip. But, once I'm there, it should be a time for relaxation and enjoyment. I'm getting lots of practice reading French. All the information I need about what libraries to visit in France is in French. I found a great report that was published just this year, in January: Construire La Bibliotheque. It's about the architecture and the future, so there's a lot to learn from it about the French view of the future of libraries. The photo above, of the interior of the library at the universitaire du Havre, just blew me away. Most do not make that strong a statement, of course, but they speak nonetheless. I have to choose 3 to visit.

I also have started a list of US libraries I need to visit and chat with those who were or are responsible for their design, about their concepts of the library in 20 years. Here in Austin, we have a central public library that will be built anew starting soon. I can get in on the ground floor, so to speak, of what Austin imagines for its library in 20 years. But on the other hand, the current building was built only about 30 years ago and many have said it was obsolete almost from the start. Will that experience have taught us a lesson, or is it inevitable that we can't plan that far ahead? Is the key going to be merely, "be flexible?" Could it come down to that? I don't think so, because the whole question of the bricks and mortar is on the table. There has to be a vision of what the space will be useful for.

You know, we have buildings on campus that have undergone modest renovation, but are more or less as they were built 100 years ago. Classes need rooms. Departments need offices. Hallways connect classrooms. That's been fairly stable for a long time. But the library. It's all in flux. The big open spaces filled with shelves nearly to the ceilings. Gone with the wind, or in the vernacular, the books done gone.

That reminds me, however, of Brewster Kahle's summary talk at the DeLange conference last week at Rice where he noted that it's now cheaper to print (print on demand) books as needed (he says a buck a book) than to buy, maintain, catalog, shelve, etc. over and over again, a book for lending. Books aren't necessarily going anywhere, well that's not exactly correct either. We may not need to keep copies to lend. That's what's done gone, the lending library's done gone. The research reference books are all online, the novels and such that people want to hold in their hands are print on demand. What's not to like? Hmmm.

1 comment:

Peg said...

What I love about books is sometimes the beautiful color. I have one reference book that I use a lot that is the most beautiful shade of blue, almost like a sacred object to me, so I don't think I would like print on demand.

The picture of the photograph is awesome. I vote you study there!