The Library Experience

I am currently working on a book chapter, and despite having pretty good online access to good library literature, I decided I wanted to go sit at a table, and surround myself with print books, and lots of current journals. I know, old school. But, I am a tactile learner, and there is something about being immersed, physically, in what you are studying.

Unfortunately, my library doesn’t really have the print books and current print journals that I need. So, I headed across town to another huge university library. It was a wonderful experience. There were so many students, and a true excitement in the air. There was lots of work being done in the information commons areas. But, the stacks were a different story!

crowded bookshelves

No room at the inn



Some of the bookshelves were overcrowded, with books stacked upon books, stacked upon books, and then, just around the corner, there were rows and rows of empty bookshelves. Now, I know that my own stacks are super crowded in certain areas, and I suspect that more libraries than not have areas like the two above.

So, why does this happen? One, we only have so much time in a day. And, most of the time we are working to make sure our virtual presence is amazing. (The library above has a stellar website.) Do we forget about the stacks? Maybe.

I know that I have needed to weed my VHS (video) collection for several years. And, typically, I am not a procrastinator. But, there are always other jobs to be done, and that task gets pushed down the list, because my users have more pressing needs.

Is it time to think about the death of stacks?

The days of huge columns of stacks in research libraries are numbered. They are so out of sync with the dynamic information commons areas. Recently, one of my favorite mathematicians introduced me to a library in Germany. Now, it has some special circumstances; it actually gets publisher support to have beautiful collections of print journals, as well as, lots of new books all the time. The Oberwolfach understands the way that mathematicians do work, and has  several types of working spaces for both individuals, and groups.

But, more interestingly, they have a book exhibition program with the publishers:


This program benefits everyone. The publishers, in essence, have exhibition space, and the researchers see the newest, best math books in a well-lit, beautiful space. In many ways, it looks like a book store, doesn’t it? The lighting is perfect. The new journals are displayed like books, each on the shelf, ready to be browsed. The mathematicians also have book stacks available, in nice, uncrowded conditions.  They also have lots of computers, of course, but print lives in this space, and is not an overcrowded, dark, mysterious thing. In essence, they have the best of all worlds.

So, where are we going? Are we left with overcrowded, dark, or worse, empty stacks? Or do we recreate these areas? Can we make beautiful, discipline-specific homages to print? Can we inspire our users with beautiful space?

I am taking a walk through my own stacks today. I’ll let you know what I find.


About effervescentlibrarian

UX Librarian at Rice University, Houston, Texas.
This entry was posted in Books, ux. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Library Experience

  1. As an author, I think about stacks all the time. I need my books available and visible! I despair of a world, toward which we appear to be hurtling, when we all read alone on our e-devices. I love to spend a day working in the library.

    One of the happiest jobs I ever took freelance was translating 19th century French documents while sitting in the NY Public library, the huge one at 42d and Fifth Avenue….I’d sit all day with my computer, dictionary and the materials (reference only) and have to shake myself awake at day’s end, having disappeared into the material to a remote Pacific island in the 1850s. Heaven!

    • effervescentlibrarian says:

      Hi-Thanks for sharing your story! Believe me, I love the books. But, I don’t want the stacks to be dark and overcrowded! I want people, even myself, to be able to work in the midst of all of the great materials. Imagine stacks with great lighting, and great spaces to read and work, and you will see where I’m headed.

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