This Washington Post article discusses changes at the Library of Congress resulting from the digital revolution.
The Library of Congress no longer needs the computer room that visitors once used to search its electronic card catalogue. These days the entire library has a wireless Internet connection, so workers this summer put a collection of old microfilm machines in that room instead.
Meanwhile, the library’s old-school physical catalogues, the kind filled with carefully penned index cards, have long since been relegated to cool basement hallways where schoolchildren marvel at their obscurity.
“I told them, ‘Before Google, this is what we used to do,’ ” said Fenella France, the library’s chief of preservation research. “They had never seen [card catalogues] before.
These are some of the several quiet moves that hint at much larger changes underway at the Library of Congress.
As libraries adapt to an increasingly networked and digital world, leading institutions are rethinking their use of physical spaces as well. At the Library of Congress, that means consolidating multiple reading rooms and making the experience of in-person researching more like the kind of one-stop shop we’ve come to expect online, a controversial plan that’s still being debated.
At the same time, planners are trying to make online presentations feel more intuitive by designing collections of photos and navigation tools on the library’s Web site so that they operate like Facebook, Amazon.com and other popular sites. Digital and physical changes play off one another.
For the first time in 40 years, a small team is also reinventing the way the library catalogues resources, developing a system that’s designed to become the new global standard. Elsewhere in the library, staffers are creating the institution’s first holistic online strategy of the Internet age and restructuring its stable of Web sites.
Other institutions face similar tensions between past and future. The Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford, for example, has been around for more than 400 years, twice as long as the Library of Congress.
“Oxford . . . has a half-millennium of history and, of course, there are many, many expectations that go with that,” said Wolfram Horstmann, associate director for digital library programs and information technologies at Oxford. “At the same time, digital-native students are coming in.”
Back at the Library of Congress, staffers are for the first time focused on how to serve people who might never set foot in Washington. That means considering how physical and digital spaces are being integrated and adapting library resources for use in physical spaces outside of the building. “Like if I’m on a mobile phone and I want to see what photos the Library of Congress has of places near where I am standing right now,” Kellum said.
Kellum and his team can imagine such Internet-connected appliances serving up Library of Congress resources such as Thomas Jefferson’s 200-year-old recipe for vanilla ice cream. “The way people do things and the devices they do them on is changing so fast,” he said. “In our institution, we need to mature in a way that lets us react to these things. Changing from an internally focused model to a user-focused model is preparing us for that world.”
To read the complete article, see:
At Library of Congress, changes are afoot in technology as well as in physical space
Wayne Homren, Editor
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