Magazine article Computers in Libraries

The Way You Organize Your Electronic Resources Really Matters; the Arrangement of the Materials Should Be Designed So That Library Users Can Easily Find the Materials They Need or Want

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

The Way You Organize Your Electronic Resources Really Matters; the Arrangement of the Materials Should Be Designed So That Library Users Can Easily Find the Materials They Need or Want

Article excerpt

Despite all the attention focused on the virtual library, which has no real sense of "place," libraries are still physical locations with lots of "things." These things--the books, magazines, photographs, audiotapes, compact discs, videocassettes, DVDs, CD-ROMs, and all the other items in collections--are all carefully cataloged, but they are also just as carefully organized into physical locations. Not everyone agrees, however, on the specific organization that is best. Would patrons be better served if materials in different formats were placed together? Should a videocassette on skate-boarding be shelved next to books on skate-boarding? Should a DVD of a popular movie be shelved with the book from which it is taken? Or, would library patrons prefer to have all the items in a particular format shelved together so that they can browse through only the materials in that format to find a movie for that evening's entertainment or a book or CD to take on a trip?


Displays of materials are another issue in organization. Bookstores and libraries are aware of marketing techniques designed to draw attention to materials that might be overlooked as part of the regular collection. I sometimes find this frustrating, however, since I tend to be a focused user who has looked up a specific title in the bookstore computer or library catalog. I head to where the title is supposed to be located only to find it isn't there. If I consult staff members, they sometimes have an idea that the item has been included in a display, but they often don't know where the display is located. This can lead to a time-consuming search of the store or library to find a title that the computer says is available. This is frequently the case for newly released titles or titles on a hot topic. In the case of bookstores, I generally solve the problem by going online to order the title. In libraries, however, I just have to keep searching.

Store Anywhere, Retrieve Everywhere

It might seem, then, that the virtual library with digital resources would not have the same problems, since digital materials can be retrieved without the user being aware of their actual location. There has been a commercial showing on TV lately that demonstrates this idea. The commercial shows a man sitting at a desk surrounded by long rows of filing cabinets. People come up to him asking for specific records and he effortlessly hands them over--in one case, even before the person finishes asking the question. The commercial is for GE Medical Systems, but the concept of effortless retrieval for users is applicable to libraries. Electronic resources can be retrieved from anywhere, but users still have to find their way to the resources, just as the people in the commercial had to find their way to the man at the desk. As librarians add electronic resources to their collections, they must consider the organization and presentation of these resources. [Editor's Note: For one example, see Todd Digby's feature on page 6.]

A further complication is that library collections, unlike the medical records in the television commercial, are not, at least at this time, solely in digital form. Libraries have both physical materials and digital materials, and any plan for organization must address how these can best be integrated for ease of use. Fortunately, librarians are working on this issue and are sharing their efforts on the Web.

Librarians Research the Issues

In past columns, I've mentioned several sites that have been created specifically for librarians. These sites often have collections of resources on topics of current interest to us. One such site is, which has a resource page titled Knowledge Management and Libraries. There are links to general resources, including a new site, Knowledge Management Resource Center, a comprehensive collection of resources on knowledge management that's directed toward businesses rather than libraries. …

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