Library of the future … on the other hand, you could smash your Kindle

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The San Jose Mercury discusses what may be the library of the future — as exemplified by the Stanford Physics Library.  According to the article, the new library will be only half the size of the current Engineering Library, “but saves its space for people, not things. It features soft seating, ‘brainstorm islands,’ a digital bulletin board and group event space. There are few shelves and it will feature a self-checkout system.”

There’s more:  it will have a completely electronic reference desk, with four Kindle 2 e-readers on site. An online journal search tool will scan 28 online databases, a grant directory and more than 12,000 scientific journals.

Here’s the problem with keeping books, which, in today’s library vernacular, are increasingly described as “units”:

Stanford is running out of room, restricted by an agreement with Santa Clara County that limits how much it can grow. Increasingly, the university seeks to preserve precious square footage.

Adding to its pressures is the steady flow of books. Stanford buys 100,000 volumes a year — or 273 every single day.

“Most of the libraries on campus are approaching saturation,” [Stanford’s Andrew] Herkovic said. “For every book that comes in, we’ve got to find another book to send off.”citylights

Can a backlash be far behind?  City Lights Bookstore,  launched by Beat  champion Lawrence Ferlinghetti in the 1950s, offers a different perspective at Booknewser, in the spirit of Allan Ginsberg’s “Howl”:

This is the current City Lights Books catalog. As you can see, it depicts a kind of Kindle graveyard. “Smash your Kindle,” City Lights seems to say, “we publish books in print.”

Stanford physics librarian Stella Ota expresses mixed feelings:

“When I look back, then there is a certain sadness for me. Any change is hard. And there are moments of joy, when I see bookplates of former faculty who owned and donated the book, and sometimes made notes on the side,” Ota said.

“But looking forward, I see an opportunity to create something new.”

Let’s hope her optimism is warranted.  As for me, my own real-book library is my sanctuary, and I long for more time away from a screen. It’s hard to beat a sunny afternoon with an old friend in the form of a well-worn book.

On the other hand, I too am running out of space…


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