Another interesting piece in the Chronicle’s special supplement on libraries – this one from a professor of English who worries open stacks are a thing of the past. In “Libraries Lost” Fred D. White expresses dismay that automated retrieval, remote storage, and dependence on online browsing will discourage serendipity and diminish the possibility that students will experience the tactile pleasures of books.
Contrary to any number of “next gen” or “millenial” predictions, the students I know are fond of physical books and mostly averse to online versions. Once they get the hang of the unfamiliar LC system, they use browsing effectively as a necessary supplement to online searching. Cataloging and classification truly do belong together as the yin and yang of discovery.
There is an issue that faces libraries, though–where do you put all the stuff? Apart from adding space or converting the social areas into stacks, there’s the problem that good books will be lost in the clutter – and in that way be just as inaccessible as if they were in remote storage. College libraries do a much better job of choosing new books carefully than getting rid of books that frankly aren’t useful anymore. Yes, one can debate “useful to whom?” but for libraries concentrating on building a solid collection for undergraduates, we need to pay as much attention to what shouldn’t be on the shelves anymore as to what’s missing when we think about collection development.