Or so you would think the Wall Street Journal article was implying when detailing the plan for libraries to use lockers that can be accessed by the public after hours or kiosks and vending machines to distribute library materials at different locations. The line saying that these kinds of outreach will redefine what it means to be a library mean that this is a relatively new concept to the writer and the WSJ. However, for those in the business, the practice of remote services (mall locations, kiosks, vending machines, and so forth) is relatively old hat.
I can understand why some library directors and supporters are a bit apprehensive about the lockers and vending machines. They are afraid that budget administrators will see it as a replacement to workers and hours rather than an enhancement of service. I might be naïve in thinking that there still has to be someone who orders the materials for the library to purchase and that someone is most likely going to be a librarian, but I don’t see this as a shrinking of the library. I see it as a way to reach people in new ways and make the library a part of their life, even if they don’t step through the front door. There are libraries out there now that mail materials to patron’s homes; I don’t see anyone writing about how that is the end of the institution.
One of the things I don’t see is the fading of physical library as a location. Even in the worst case scenario, there has to be a location where the materials can be distributed from and a system in place to coordinate orders, holds, retrievals, and invariably dealing with patrons and problems with their materials. With that level of staffing, I see a building that resembles a hybrid between the current library and a post office. There are postal type areas that allow for remote access to materials for people and then there are library areas for people to browse, take classes, attend programs, and read a daily newspaper or magazine. In this incarnation, the library morphs into a place that is truly available twenty four hours a day, both physically and online. The mission doesn’t change, but the look and feel of the physical location does.
I guess this begs a question: how can libraries expand out space outside of the library? What other areas can libraries get ‘remote outposts’? What enhances or diminishes service outside of the library?