Next chapter or nothing

December 3, 2009

As an information professional, I'd like to add to the responses to Kevin Sharpe's article on the modern library ("Quiet, please", 5 November). He raises some good points about the lack of a scholarly atmosphere driving people away from the library, but we in the library community deserve a little credit for making constructive decisions based on our circumstances: everything Sharpe bemoans has happened for a reason.

Regarding our boasting about more users - "by that yardstick alone, Starbucks and student nightclubs are even more successful", he says - his comparisons are unproductive. Footfall in a library is a valid criterion for judging success. Public spending cuts are looming, so proving that people are using our libraries is essential to their future funding.

Then there is the "invasion" of technology at the expense, Sharpe implies, of books and journals. This is a fundamental misconception that needs clearing up: academic libraries do not get rid of physical stock to make room for PCs. Remodelling and extension is in fact often driven by the need to accommodate more shelves, as the demand from academics for new materials far exceeds the space we have. We'd be putting huge amounts of books into storage anyway, regardless of PCs. If anything, computers create space by allowing e-only journal subscriptions, thus freeing up shelves for new books.

Sharpe finishes by asking: "Please may we have our libraries back?" The answer, in these difficult economic times, is that you can have a redefined, reinterpreted and revitalised version of your library, or you may have to make do with no library at all.

Ned Potter, Digitisation co-ordinator, University of Leeds.

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