Friday, February 6, 2009

Where we are, Where we're going

So Louise has been out sick for most of this week, which means no new project update meetings. That being said, the floor plan rundown I promised last week will have to wait a while... but that's circumstance for you! Sometime it's out of your control.

That being said, I think it might be worthwhile to really dive into talking about the CTR library itself: collections, patronage, workflow, and so on. And beyond that, I'd also like to touch on where Louise wants to take the library, and how this move is going to help to act as a first step. Join me, if you will...

Besides re-arranging the collections and stacks to fit the new space, the main thing Louise wanted me to focus on in this project was the possibility of creating an "iCommons" for the new library. An iCommons (or information commons, to forgo Apple parlance) is the term that has been adopted to describe areas in libraries that blend internet and computer technology with traditional library services. It was birthed from the shift, over the last few years, from libraries providing physical materials to providing access to information: possibly through the stacks, but also through online databases, internet search, etc. The iCommons is also associated with a more comfortable, inviting library space. For smaller libraries like the CTR, this means less about setting aside an "area" within the library as an iCommons space, and more about making the entirety of the space more inviting. (See the Wisconsin DOT from last week's post).

As far as implementing technology with traditional service goes, the CTR library is already remarkably on the ball. Official TxDOT reports, which make up most of the catalog, are available online as pdf's (links are available through the online catalog for ease of finding/use). Additionally, most requests are received through email, and most researchers request pdf's. These are either found somewhere on the UT campus as physical copies and scanned, or located on one of the many Engineering and Transportation Journal databases that the CTR subscribes to.

CTR's patronage, mainly professional researchers and graduate students, many on site at the center, contributes to this focus on online and electronic services. Most individuals who contact the CTR either (A) know exactly what they want, by title or report number, or (B) have a specific engineering search term in mind (which are often standardized within the field) that they want a literature review performed on. In the case of A., the item can either be found in the CTR's catalog, online, or through interlibrary services. If the patron works at the Center, they can pick the item up and return (either checking it out, or simply taking one of the free extra copies that come with shipments of new reports). If they work offsite, pdf's are preferred to physical copies for simple convenience: they can get there faster, and researchers have deadlines. Very rarely does someone from the general public (not from a University or Transportation Agency) contact the CTR Library, and even then they often prefer pdfs. Seeing someone come in to browse the stacks would be the equivalent, roughly, of seeing bigfoot riding a unicorn through time square. In the case of a literature review request, most searching is done online through CTR's access to transportation databases. After that, patron's selections are tracked down and, you guessed it, sent as pdf's.

Which isn't to say that the CTR library's current space is uninviting: it's certainly usable. The TxDOT reports, which receive the most interest, are on shelves with plenty of space between them, perfect for tracking down a report (which are arranged conveniently by project number). There's also a small reference section (cataloged following LoC standards) and a 'States Room' that houses transportation reports from the USA's other transportation departments. Still, the space itself is a bit stale: the front desk is placed just to the left of the entryway, out of site from entry patrons. When the patron gets through the door, they're met by the back computer monitor that sits directly in front of the GRA manning the desk. There is a small table with four chairs meant for collaboration, but comfortable and inviting would not be the first words that spring to mind.

The new library space will be more open, and will allow us to set aside more of a room for an "iCommons". Following Wisconsin DOT's lead, we will be attempting at some point to get some used furniture on the cheap. Luckily enough, the CTR is already run like a library of the new century. The next step will be to look the part.

Next week! Floor plan. This time, I promise.

1 comment:

  1. Don't folks ever need big tables to unroll big plans ? Dumb question!