In the Library: The Idea of the Library Has Always Been Bigger Than the Building

Article excerpt

Have I mentioned lately how much I love my libraries? I'm a very proud and satisfied holder of library cards from three great systems: the University of Washington, Seattle Public Library, and King County Library System. Each gives me great service and represents high levels of professionalism and innovation. (As an aside, they've all also been great friends and supporters of our school, as has the rest of the information world in our region.)

As much as I value and use these libraries, each in its own way, I am substantially more likely to "use" them while sitting here in my office, or at home, or while on the road than by wandering in the door. The main university library is may be 20 yards from my building, and my neighborhood branch is about five blocks from my house, so it's not strictly a matter of proximity.

Apart from using the university library for teaching purposes (my most frequent reason), a typical physical visit includes picking up books I've requested or put on hold. I might browse the new-books shelf, perhaps look at the bulletin board, peek at an exhibit--that sort of thing. If I'm being totally honest, sometimes I watch what other people are doing, out of total curiosity (am I the only one who does that?).

My heaviest use of each is, unsurprisingly, digital: searching the catalog and databases, using library websites, printing out articles, placing those holds, asking reference questions via e-mail or chat, or looking for reading recommendations. I imagine that in this regard I'm not that unusual, and that there are substantial numbers of people for whom the same is true.

It would be easy to think of those sorts of uses as somehow remote, different, even lesser than in person visits; and on some levels they are different, since obviously there are things you can do while in the building you can't do when you're not, and in a few cases vice versa.

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There are far more ways, however, in which all these kinds of visits are the same. …