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The Plugged-In Library of the Future

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If you thought the success of the iPad, the Kindle, and Google Books had resolved whether electronic books did the job of physical books, forget that thought. Slate on Nov. 16 published yet another essay about the importance of the physicality of books, which probably adds nothing new to the debate but reminds us that people still have strong opinions about the need for books as physical objects. Then on Nov. 19th the Huffington Post published this, which similarly descries the changing world of electronic publishing, though with what success there has been considerable debate. And this love letter to various other love letters to the physicality of written expression came out in December in FT Magazine. All of which is to say, people are still talking and thinking about the importance of the physical in our relationship with the written word. I wouldn’t think of even expressing an opinion on whether these writers are correct, but it’s for sure the people building the just-opened James B. Hunt Library at North Carolina State University see things differently.

Its creators say the Hunt will be “nothing less than the best learning and collaboration space in the country” as it opens.

And it’s a closed-stack library.

I have myself yelled loudly against the very concept of closed stacks, and others are raising the same issue about the New York Public Library, so when I got the chance to wander around the James B. Hunt Library with the people behind the design of its systems, I jumped.This video gives a sense of what I saw.

This story from the News & Observer of Raleigh has some lovely up-to-date images. The Hunt is already an amazing place, and I’ll have much more to share about it now that it’s open and I can work with it and see how well it does what it sets out to do. But again: in the new information economy, the first thing that gets everybody’s attention is that it will have closed stacks. As the claim makes clear, library designers think about the library as a place where people work and create together, with access to both physical books and electronic information. It’s not a big box of books.

Like I said, lots more to come. Thanks to Maurice York, IT director, Kristin Antelman, assoc. director for the digital library, Patrick Deaton, assoc. director for learning spaces and capital management, and Wayne Clark, whose title is, seriously, Associate Research Director for the Institute for Next Generation IT Systems (ITng) within the College of Engineering at North Carolina State University.

 

 

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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