the new alexandria??


okay, so i’m sitting on the couch with my dear hubby, and he turns to me and says, “honey, online classes! in high school!! you don’t have to leave the house!! no, he doesn’t get out much, as my response to him was, “you really have to get out from under that rock sometimes.” 🙂

but then we had a short discussion about what that would mean if every high schooler (or any schooler) didn’t have to leave their house. or even could meet in a central location in their neighborhood. no busing hither and yon, worries about racial balances, advanced vs. average vs. need a little help here. but i digress…

but not really!! because it got me thinking about libraries. and all the doomsday prophecies (and real-time occurrences) of dying libraries. but it was a quote from roberta stevens, president of the american library association (ala) that really got me thinking about the new “virtual” alexandria.

ms. stevens was asked how libraries were faring, and in her response she mentioned how libraries were cutting hours due to budget cuts. “But the problem is every time you cut hours, you’re shutting out thousands and thousands of people.”

what? shutting out thousands of people? then why the resistance toward the ‘e’ revolution? e-books, e-readers, e-lectronic tranmissions, e-volution!! viva la revolucion. or revulsion in some circles.

what struck me is the sense that the library is still the four walls. and, i know, in many communities and colleges and universities it is! i grew up using a tiny neighborhood public library and love it to this day. but that was the 60s and 70s. look how much has changed since then. my house phone was on the wall back then. now it’s in my pocketbook (oh, wait, they don’t even call them pocketbooks anymore, do “they?” my bank doesn’t even want me to enter their vaunted four walls. they want me to do my banking electronically or they’re gonna charge me for the privilege of accessing my money that they are borrowing and getting the interest on. anyway, i really digressed there . . . but not really.

check this article. japan and european countries are digitizing collections to make them accessible to “the peoples.” some countries want to create “digital” national libraries. why do you think that is?? aren’t these countries worried about the death of the book. don’t they like the smell of books, the feel of paper. don’t they want “the peoples” to smell the books, feel the books?

apparently not.

now, i’ll be the first one to admit that i am not an authority on anything. but i do think a lot. about a lot of different stuff. and today, i thought of how we could keep the library open. not necessarily physically. and, these ramblings are in no way a “dis” against librarians and the wonderful and knowledgeable services they provide. i work with some of the finest in the profession. but… they breathe in oxygen and breathe out CO2. they are human. they need to go home. they have to eat and do other things. just like the rest of us.

now i’m sure that there are libraries across the country that are doing the things i’m about to propose. but it just struck me funny that the president of the ala would talk about hours shutting people out. the doors to the library may be closed but the portal to the treasures inside is wide open.

okay, here are my ideas for the virtual alexandria:

podcasts – whatever you’re doing in the library today can be recorded. did you have a chat with an author? video. knitting club? video. question of the day? video. storytime? definite video. (hey, i don’t work out the details like copyright and stuff, i’m just the idea gal, okay?)

e-books – and i’m not just talking about an e-book collection. i’m talking about a robust interactive e-book lending program. i’m talking wireless downloads to mobile devices (ipods, smartphones, laptops, tablets, PCs, you name it). it’s not a question about patrons getting to the library anymore for the basic services of book borrowing.

collaboration – hathitrust – academic universities and the library of congress working together to digitize collections (almost EIGHT million volumes) harvard university wants a digital public library of america. this is the 21st century. no limits. as doc brown said in back to the future, “road? where we’re going, we don’t need roads.”

accessibility – is that what it’s really about? what is it that the patron needs access to? is it really the collection or is it the computers? the vast knowledge of the resident librarian or para-professional or the comfy chairs and cappucinos? whatever it is, find a way to ‘e’ it. because if it’s the computers and the capps, you’ve got some work to do.

making the rounds recently (although he gave this speech back in september, 2010) is eli neiburger’s “libraries are screwed.”

here is emily williams’ response to mr neiburger: if libraries are screwed, so are the rest of us.

they both have good points worth considering. important considerations. the problem is that while the pro-e vs. con-e factions discuss the pros and cons of ‘e’, the patrons are in the middle . . . waiting. like children of quarreling parents.

can’t we all just get along? and keep the doors open in the process?

happy reading . . . no matter the format!

interesting stuff:
library of congress american memory
new york review of books: library without walls

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