Sunday, February 21, 2010

Library Without Librarians (sometimes)

Not The Brightest Bulb
Still fighting the conference paper. We got ourselves a deadline extension. That's another week to make the paper presentable (Yay!) - and another week of harried writing, with little time for modelling, Japanese lessons or anything else (Booo!).

Anyway, here's a bright idea (I needed an excuse to use the image on left): A library in Veberöd outside Lund, Sweden, is open on evenings without librarians or anybody else. The light is left on and the door unlocked when the staff leaves in the evening and people can come in to read, borrow and return books by themselves. It closes at ten when a caretaker presumably shoos out the visitors and locks the doors. It's such a success that they now consider extending the opening hours of most libraries in Lund in the same way.

A few reactions of mine:

First, this would probably not be possible without automation. All books are tagged so borrowing and returning can be done automatically - put the books on the borrowing counter, swipe your library card and they're all registered. Also, unchecked books will set off an alarm at the door if someone tries to bring them out; plenty enough to deter dishonest or forgetful patrons. It's not stated outright but I guess you need to use your library card to get inside too.

Also, this says more about the local culture in and around Lund than about anything else. A place like Veberöd is small, and library patrons at least recognize each other by sight. Lund itself is larger of course, but also very dominated by the university (more than a third of the city works or studies there) and libraries tend to have a fairly enthusiastic following. It would be difficult to cause trouble without strong reactions from other people. I'm not sure this would work as well in a large, anonymous city.

This is not about removing librarians; the article is very clear about that. It's about extending opening hours on a low budget. A good thing, as long as no local politician starts fantasizing about truly librarian-less libraries. Once upon a time the Swedish school system (it never saw a crackpot pedagogical theory it didn't like) experimented with "teacher-less lessons" in 7- to 9th grade in order to save money. Students were not impressed, nor were they stupid, and they soon became "teacher and student-less lessons" - an impressive monetary savings, if perhaps not conductive to any academic progress.

As a child I spent an inordinate amount of time in the local library (when I visited for the first time in fifteen years, the first thing the librarian said was "Oh, hi Janne, it's been a while"), and this news inspired me to take a look online for Osaka libraries. The Osaka central library is great with a huge amount of material and open every day, and I occasionally visit. But it takes twenty minutes by bicycle from home, so it's a bit too far to just casually drop in for a book or two. As it turns out, there's a branch library at the Senior Center just a couple hundred meters south of here, with opening hours almost as generous. I must check it out as soon as my workload lets up just a bit. Hey, maybe there's a book on setting up your own darkroom...

1 comment:

Mashu said...

An interesting and excellent idea. I would absolutely love to see an automated setup utilized to fiscally-responsibly extend library hours. I've never actually been to a public library in Japan, but as for the library on campus here in Kyoto, I am convinced a lengthening of opening hours, or even a 24-hour setup would go over extremely well. I've seen student petitions now and then seeking such an extension, and I really think it would be put to great use.

I'm like one of the "permanent residents" of the library, since I'm still deep in a lot of study and research, and I would say 80% or more of the students and researchers I see at the library are as well, working there every weekday until closing. If I think about it practically, a 24-hour setup would require one or two additonal full-time staff members, to manage the gate in the 11pm-7am hours that all the gates are closed (at present). I generally am happy to limit my time to the open/close hours (need to slow down some time!), but I see a lot of people working outside before the library opens and after closing, and I really can't foresee a lot of unruly behaviour resulting from a librarian-free evening shift being added.