The New York Times had an article on Saturday — College Libraries Set Aside Books in a Digital Age — that got me thinking. The article describes how the University of Texas at Houston is converting its undergraduate library into an “electronic information commons.” (The books — about 70,000 of them — are being moved to other campus libraries where they will still be accessible to all.) As described in the article,
This reflects the changing ways that people, especially today’s teens and twentysomethings, approach scholarship.
Now, if physical libraries are being redesigned to provide space and facilities for digital learning and scholarship, then the library itself should make take advantage of the same technologies our patrons use. Give people what they want before they know they want it — or at a minimum, provide them with a suite of tools to make their quest for answers easier. Send them notices when books similar to items they’ve previously checked out are available. Let them save a catalog query as an RSS feed so they’ll know when new materials are available. Provide one-stop metasearch capabilities of all the databases the library offers. We are, after all, in the service industry — we provide people with the information they need to do whatever it is they do.