Posted by Lori Ayre on April 18, 2004

Jennifer Burek Pierce wrote a thought-provoking article about the future of the library (IMHO) in her Grassroots Report column in American Libraries, April 2004 issue.

The article is about some university libraries who are creating spaces known as "Information Commons." These spaces are noted for their long hours, the availablity of computers for patrons, access to reference materials and access to professional assistance in the areas of both technology and reference.

At Indiana University's undergraduate library, the first floor is the Information Commons. The Dean of University Libraries describes it as a place with "round-the-clock access to an open, light-filled space that's filled with 250 computer workstations...and also offers books, reference specialists, and technologists all in one place. It's one stop shopping."

According to Jennifer Burek Pierce, there's a similar Information Commons available at Colorado State University, Emory University and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. No doubt there are others too. All the above libraries report big increases in gate counts as a result of their new Information Commons.

It's no wonder more people are coming into these libraries. The philosophy of the people creating these information commons is to provide a "seamless integration of high tech and high touch" and to "meet the learner at his or her level" and to provide a "full array of help." This is the kind of library I want at my school and in my community.

University and even public libraries have to get over that technology speedbump when it comes to supporting their patrons (or should I say servicing their clients?). People who come into the library are increasingly in need of help (otherwise they'd just be home googling). They need professional assistance to use the reference resources and they need professional assistance with the technology used to access those resources, including but not limited to the Internet.

Reference and Support Desk
Just as no library would be caught dead without a reference desk, isn't it time we also provided technical assistance to the patrons that need it? Why not have a Reference and Support Desk in every library?

I'm not suggesting every reference librarian should be a computer tech but I am suggesting every library should have someone readily available to help their patrons with the technology provided by the library whether it is laptop computers, online catalogs, public access computers or subscription databases.

And the person providing technology assistance should be as easy to find as the reference librarian and as capable at helping patrons with technology as reference librarians are at tracking down the answers.

I have a dream today....