• [Lock Those Libraries]

    [Blue book with an open door in the cover]I visited the library at the University of Sussex yesterday for the first time in ages. I was unpleasantly surprised to discover that the library is now locked up tighter than a drum. In order to enter the library at all, you need to have a valid library card which is scanned by a card reader attached to the turnstyles. This just seems so… odd. I can understand preventing unauthorized people from removing items from the building, but why prevent anyone from entering and using the contents in a polite way? I’ve been to university libraries in several European countries, across three Canadian provinces, and in a few American states, and I’ve never seen a locked down library before. The war on terrorism has spread to libraries: our knowledge might be contaminated. Lock those libraries!

    I went to the library yesterday expressly to find the supposedly available copy of Delany’s Babel-17. After fumbling with my card at the turnstyle (no instructions were provided — in fact, I just guessed that it wanted to scan my library barcode), I went on a exploratory mission to the deepest, darkest depths of the library, hunting for the elusive, improperly signed ‘PZ’ category which holds the library’s limited science fiction collection. As I went down darkened row after darkened row (yes, dark!), lights magically came on before me. Actually, I thought this was an excellent new feature of the library. After all, many areas of the stacks are very lightly trafficked, if at all, so only turning lights on when someone is in them and moving is probably a win-win situation for the environment, for electricity costs, and for cooling costs in the summer. Now we have a library that keeps terrorists out and lights up the lives of permitted patrons. Will wonders never cease?


    2 comments on “[Lock Those Libraries]”

    • Eingang says:

      That’s a good point and it reminds me of looking for materials at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich. They didn’t have “stacks” that you could browse. You looked through the electronic card catalogue for what you wanted and presented a request slip to a librarian. Then a robot would retrieve and eventually deliver whatever it was. It was very high tech, but I did comment at the time on how it interfered with serendipitous finds. As you noted with The Open University library, you already needed to know a lot about what it was you wanted before you could get it.

    • eLiz says:

      Indeed, even accessing library resources once you’re in the building is not necessarily easy.

      If I want to see a PhD thesis from the Open University library, I have to know its title or author in order to make a request of the librarian. The problem with that approach is that you first need to know just which thesis you want to look at, but all that is in the electronic file is the title and the author, not what method of research was used, and as every author and topic is different, what is interesting is finding *how* the research was done and how it was written up. That means you’ve got to skim read a number of PhD thesis, and you can’t do that when they’re all kept behind the doors for access only with author and title.

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