Saturday, November 22, 2008

The On-Line Public Library

As I was contemplating just what a library of the future might be like, I was reminded of a television/radio museum library which I visited a number of years ago in NYC. It was very entertaining. You looked up various show titles in their main catalog and ordered them from the reference desk. When it came time to view or listen to your selections, you sat down in a private booth complete with you own a-v console and enjoyed the entertainment to your hearts content. I just remember how comfortable and secluded I felt, even though there were a number of other patrons in the room, of whose presence I became aware only through the occasionally audible sounds of their laughter. What a cool place!

The listening booth idea kind of stuck with me and has become the focal point of my library vision. I see a main reading room furnished with not tables and chairs, but rather a series of personal sound-proof listening booths, each equipped with a a media console and comfortable seating for up to two or three persons to accommodate limited sharing of those library materials in non-print formats. There patrons could access the main catalog and instantly download e-books, audiobooks, videos, music, and more. They might enjoy their selections on the premises, depending on the situation, or take them home on their portable media devices. There would be previews available of all items in the catalog to aid patrons in their search for appropriate materials. Printed books would still comprise a part of the library collection but be fewer in number than their electronic counterparts.

In such a high-tech atmosphere, I could see the reference service evolving as well. I envision more on-line chat type of interaction between the librarian and the patron, who could be located at a computer terminal either at a remote location within the library building or outside entirely. With less need for storage space for print media, future library facilities would likely either be smaller or made to accommodate increased exhibition or programming space.

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