Closed Stacks

There is an interesting post on the Oxford University Press’s blog by Michael Levine-Clark, “An academic librarian without a library.” In truth, Michael does have a library, but it is being renovated and what he means is he doesn’t currently have a library with open stacks. In Europe, closed stacks are a more common occurrence then in the United States. In the U.S. people have become accustomed to being able to browse open stacks and many faculty, students and librarians think going to closed stacks would be a loss. However, with many academic librarians being on prime campus real estate and the needs for the library to serve other uses, such as being an Information Commons, moving a portion of the physical collections off-site is becoming more and more common. It is a trend I don’t see going the other way anytime soon.

At the University of Denver where Michael Levine-Clark as Collections Librarian and Professor, the library is closed for renovations. Originally up to 80% of the psychical collections was to remain off-site but after an uproar from students and faculty 50% of the collection is set to return after renovations. Michael’s blog post details how “every comment I’ve heard from faculty and students about the temporary dislocation [of stacks] has been positive” and “raises the question of what exactly a library is.”

While browsing may not be, as Michael says, “an ideal way” of finding books no one single way is and no amount of technology will change that. The serendipity of finding something you are not looking for is far less likely in online environments and I think that is a big loss. I wonder if the lack of access to the physical collection via browsing is not getting as much negative reaction because faculty and students know that the library is being renovated and that it is a temporary inconvenience and when the renovations are done half of the collections will return to open stacks? Browsing stacks might not be the best way to find ALL books on the topic you can get, but it is probably the most efficient way to find and access SOME physical books on a topic. Depending on the users’ needs at the time, that is often just what they want. It certainly works for the cook book and travel sections at my local Barnes and Noble and unless they typical undergrad is different then i was in college (which they may very well be the case but I’m skeptical) it serves there purpose most of the time.