On my travels I am coming across many more discussions of space, especially in academic libraries. Space is a valuable, and, in some cases, a contested resource. And, for some, the opportunity costs of filling space with collections are being assessed in the context of how the library best creates value for its community.
See, for example, Eric Schnell's note on this topic. And many folks may have seen the WSJ article on library space during the week.
Striking the right balance between attracting students and preserving core library functions is a subject of continuing debate among librarians. But there is agreement on one point: Libraries must stay flexible. Valparaiso, like several others, uses raised floors and movable furniture so the library can keep adapting. "We planned on not knowing what the trend will be 15 years from now," Mr. AmRhein said. [Wall Street Journal, October 21 2006. Librarias beckon, but stacks of books aren't part of pitch. Subscription resource.]
There are two interesting directions here. First, how is space being used, and going to be used, to support valuable learning and research experiences? I spent Tuesday last week at the Library Renaissance conference organized by the Colorado State University Libraries in Fort Collins (which appears in the best places to buy list in the current issue of Business 2.0). I heard an interesting presentation about CSU's learning commons work from Alison Cowgill and Lindsey Wess. They strongly recommended The Information Commons Handbook, by Don Beagle and colleagues, which I need to look up.
Second, how do we manage print collections going forward? This raises interacting local and systemic issues. How do you optimize local resources? And to what extent does this local optimization increasingly depend on systemwide optimization, where the 'system' is some sort of consortial or group activity? This is an aspect of the 'collective collection' discussion that we are seeing emerge around off-site storage, mass digitization and preservation.
This is a topic that deserves more attention. For the moment, here is a nicely done video about library shelving ;-)
Video via John Hubbard