Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Paradigm Lost

This past summer, Carla Tracy, Director of the Thomas Tredway Library at Augustana College, introduced me to an article of Scott Bennett's that I had not previously seen. I have been especially interested in his perspective as a library space planning expert, since he observed in a 2003 CLIR called Libraries Designed for Learning report that: 
"Library after library has sacrificed reader accommodation to the imperatives of shelving. The crowding out of readers by reading material is one of the most common and disturbing ironies in library space planning."
In a 2009 article in portal, entitled "Libraries and Learning: A History of Paradigm Change"he frames the influence on library space of library services and collections over several centuries. It posits three major models that have affected the design and use of library space:

  • The Reader-Centered Paradigm "affirmed the unity of book and reader." Reading tables and light, rather than shelving, were the dominant features.

  • The Book-Centered Paradigm showcases the wealth of the library's collections but also the unrelenting need for shelving: on a good day, this is the temple of books; on a bad day, the warehouse of books. Stacks are the dominant feature.

  • The Learning-Centered Paradigm: With the advent of electronic resources as the primary information format, the relationship between reader and collection has changed again. The dominant features are the information commons and group study spaces.

While there is clearly some overlap among these three models, the distinctions seem useful. Academic libraries are rethinking their role in the teaching and learning mission of their parent institutions, from a library presence in course management systems to information literacy initiatives. Facilitating an interaction among student, faculty, and relevant content may require adapted physical and virtual spaces--i.e., a conscious move from the book-centered to the learning-centered paradigm.

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