January 25, 2022

Report: MIT Librarians Reflect on the Future of Libraries

From an MIT News Article:

The Event

David Adjaye, the 2016 recipient of the Eugene McDermott Award in the Arts at MIT, is one of the preeminent architects responding to the changing needs of libraries. His Idea Stores in East London and his Francis Gregory Neighborhood Library and William O. Lockridge/Bellevue Library in Washington have revitalized the public library for the 21st century, while maintaining libraries’ abiding functions as communal spaces and cultural storehouses.

Adjaye recently participated in a panel discussion at MIT about the “Future of the Library,” where he; Ginnie Cooper, retired chief librarian of the District of Columbia Public Library; Nader Tehrani, dean of the Irwin C. Chanin School of Architecture at The Cooper Union; Jeffrey Schnapp, professor of romance languages and literature and comparative literature at Harvard University; and Chris Bourg, director of the MIT Libraries, shared their insights with the MIT Libraries Task Force and the broader community. Throughout the evening, these esteemed architects, librarians, and scholars discussed precedents in their own work that hint at the future, as well as the ambitious work ahead for libraries to realize their potential as spaces for engagement, creation, reflection, or refuge.

MIT Librarian Reflections

To further explore the topic, we asked several MIT librarians — Jana Dambrogio, the Thomas F. Peterson (1957) Conservator; Lorrie McAllister, digital and special collections strategist; Cassandra Silvia, program head for access and information services; and Stephen Skuce, program manager for rare books, to share their thoughts on the transformations they have experienced at MIT Libraries and what future libraries may look like, in terms of space, and also in terms of collections, preservation, research, and patron experience.

“Preserving digital objects over time is a wild frontier. It’s a huge concern for all of us. In a library setting, we are here for the long term. Everything we do, presumably, we’re constantly thinking the future is longer than the past. We have an obligation to keep this stuff and be able to serve it quickly to people who want it. We haven’t been able to stop doing a lot. Books still have to be findable. Not everything on the shelf is available in digital form. That legacy of print stays with us.” —Stephen Skuce

“Resources and scholarship will continue to be created in digital format. Print will not go away — whether it takes the form of general collections, special collections, unique materials or archives. We will continue to steward print collections. Something that is an issue is the metadata about those things and querying that data in a way that makes sense to you. If you are standing in a print collection in the stacks, how do you know that the book you’re looking at has electronic books that relate to it? Our methods of search and discovery and interaction will become more sophisticated.” —Lorrie McAllister

“Clear organization is paramount. ‘Save the time of the user’ is one of the oldest catchphrases in library science; Charles Ammi Cutter, a librarian from the 19th century said it. If you can possibly make it easier, you do so. Certainly, for a lot of undergrads at MIT, the library is a refuge — as it is for many of us. A dorm room isn’t always the most conducive place to study. The shushing librarian is a ridiculous stereotype — an offensive stereotype. The librarians I know are all about communicating and interacting. But MIT students deserve a fairly quiet place to learn the hard stuff they’re trying to learn, and that’s a very important function of the libraries at MIT. At the same time, we need places to meet and share information. Not every assignment is ‘go work on your problem set alone.’” —Stephen Skuce

Read More Reflections in the Complete Article

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.