As I was purusing the news yesterday, a comment from the SayAnythingBlog caught my attention. Apparently, University of North Dakota’s Law School asked for a $10 Million to expand their courtroom setting, and the request was rejected. The rejection of the courtroom wasn’t the comment that caught my eye, however, it was the alternative that was suggested on where to put the courtroom:

“The Law School has an enormous amount of space. They’ve got every electronic teaching aid known to man. If they want to they can clear out the law library since Lawyers don’t use law books anymore, it’s all electronic.” (emphasis added)

Between this comment, and the one I heard from R. David Lankes‘ keynote speech at AALL, it makes me wonder if the physical space that the library takes is actually hurting the concepts of libraries more than it is helping?

Take a look at the picture that Lankes showed of a library 70 years ago, and the same library today. There is a stark difference of a place that people go to gather, study and learn, to a place that houses books. Libraries look more like a showpiece for bound books than it does as a place to come to learn. So, should we be surprised when someone says to clear out the library since no one uses it any more? Now, the mentioning of moving collections back behind closed doors and having people come ask for those hidden items may be too appalling an idea to actually put into action. The idea sprung from the fact that closed collections could be housed in a far smaller footprint and allow libraries to be viewed more as a place for people than a place for books. [By the way, I ran the idea past my wife (who happens to now be an elementary librarian after many years of being a corporate librarian), and she thought the idea was horrible. But, horrible and/or crazy ideas have never stopped me from investigating them (or writing about them here!!)] If we turn the focus of a library away from the collection of physical items and toward more of an idea of where the community you serve comes to learn, then you may very well see a place that people go to gather and learn. As long as the identities of libraries are viewed as simply a space that houses books, then we will constantly lose that space, and eventually the true identity of a library as a place to gather and learn.