Friday, February 22, 2008

Library Sit In

We've just had the carpets replaced throughout at our main library (now that's an experience!), and during the reshuffling we took the opportunity to widen the aisles to 1.2 metres of actual open space from edge of shelf to edge of shelf - mainly to comply with wheelchair accessibility - but it has had some wonderful unintended consequences! One of the downsides of course to widening the aisles is less room for "stuff" mainly book stacks, which has created a bit of a problem - however, I am starting to think that the greatly increased amenity for humans far outways this problematic consequence! We (the staff) have been struck by the good feeling we get from walking into and working in what appears to be a more spacious library (it's not of course, it's the same square metreage as before), and this has been mirrored by the significant number of spontaneous favourable customer comments.

But one unforeseen consequence of bigger aisles (and brand new bouncy carpet no doubt) is the immediately noticed propensity for people to sit on the floor in the aisles while they go through the bottom two shelves of books in the non-fiction section (obviously looking for something specific or just thoroughly browsing their favourite section). Now is this a bad thing or a good thing? Doesn't it obstruct other borrowers or potentially even, those wheelchair users that we widened the aisles for in the first place? And yet, if only I could adequately describe the impression of people relaxing, enjoying this simple act (often in pairs, mainly the under 50s age demographic) - owning the space, feeling right at home - but also being very polite and moving out of the way if necessary (there's still generally enough room for people to walk past those sitting on the floor) - after all, human bodies are not immovable objects, especially when they are attached to polite individuals who more than happily make way for other people (and wheelchairs) - well I would have to say that the sheer feeling of delight that this simple new rearrangement has created is well worth the loss of room for books...(What to do about that is another issue, it's weighing up the tradeoff between creating room and weeding, but that's a debate for another time...) While there is the aspiration in libraries to "do away" with bottom shelves (ah the luxury of that much room!!! who has actually achieved this, and actually stuck with it beyond a year into opening day??), maybe building in luxurious floor space for sitting on is a legitimate design consideration? (Not in the large print section, obviously!)

Saturday, February 16, 2008

"Library Anxiety"- Buying vs Borrowing Books

I was having a conversation with my sister the other day about books, and she told me she has just started re-using libraries to save money on buying books (though she still buys a heap.) In discussing the pros and cons of buying vs borrowing, she professed to a kind of stress or anxiety around books borrowed rather than books bought - ie there is pressure to read a borrowed library book, even if you're "not in the mood" for it within the loan period; and the threat of fines is a real bummer. When I suggested the possibility of "unlimited" loans - even worse! The more library books borrowed, apparently, the greater the stress! Now as a librarian it distressed me to hear that library users feel actual or potential stress when borrowing books (well OK a sample of 1, but I have heard this sentiment expressed by my own borrowers, especially when they have to pay fines). Is there some way of eliminating this stress? Or is this just the cost of having the benefit of free books to read?

Now the DVD loans industry has thought up a pretty nifty way of eliminating at least the stress of fines - eg Telstra's home delivered DVD service lets you keep them as long as you like, no threat of fines, but no new ones until the old ones are returned - but of course they charge a monthly fee so it's in the borrower's best interests to exchange items at a fast rate; and also they can cheaply reproduce popular titles on demand (something libraries can't do - we have to buy extra copies at full commercial cost) - so this model doesn't offer much for libraries...or does it?

I would speculate that 80% of stock on a public library's shelf is stuff that could go out for a much longer loan period and no-one would be terribly disadvantaged (in fact it would be a kind of de facto storage - just in people's houses instead of on library shelves) - it's the 20% of new/popular stuff that we need to keep circulating in its (say) first 2 years of acquisition - so what if we could limit the loan period only on this 20%, but let the rest go out for as long as the borrower wanted it for without having to renew (since we don't have the tool of price, we would have to apply a reasonable limit say 6 months - and borrowers would have to commit to returning consequently reserved items) - the only proviso being that they could only have, say, 10 of these "unlimited" loans at a time. Thus people who were fine averse could happily restrict themselves to these, let's call them, "freedom" loans!! Well I haven't worked out the operational details of how the system could allocate these different loan types to individual items (based on a algorithm of age/usage and reserves pending maybe?) and how we would easily and without frustration indicate the different types to customers...minor details (!??!!) - but I still think this is a cool idea. What a boon for nervous borrowers like my sister, who in all liklihood would continue to self-supply for new and popular titles that she just can't wait for, but who would also like the stress-free freedom of borrowing a wider range of materials without deadlines and fines. (Just eliminate fines, perhaps, like many libraries? But don't you then lose the opportunity for new items to circulate frequently before their popularity expires if there's no incentive to bring them back quickly??) What do you think??