"The world of libraries is changing, and we have to change with it." Anthony W. Marx, President of the New York Public Library
Remember when in order to do a paper for school, you had to come into the library for the information? Remember running in before the library closed on Sunday night (yes, we used to be open until 8:00 on Sundays during the school year) and feverishly photocopying from the reference books? As a librarian for many years, I helped many a panic-stricken student who was desperately trying to piece together enough information to complete the assignment while the angry parent hissed "I told you not to wait until the last minute..." Well, they did and we helped them the best we could.
Nowadays with the advent of the Internet, this is a scenario that we seldom see anymore. Students are finding adequate sources on the Internet while our reference books have been languishing on the shelves. Reliable reference books, the gold standards of information, are simply not being used anymore by the public or even much by the staff. They are expensive dust gatherers and we can no longer afford or justify the need to maintain the traditional reference collection. It is not just a phenomenon at New City Library, but a trend that is well-documented in both public and academic libraries.
So what will we do? For one thing, we have cut back on our standing orders. If the information is available on-line (and often for free) we have canceled that publication. We have converted many of our print subscriptions to e-books, so that they are always available for all, anywhere there is a computer and a library card. The final step is that we are allowing most of our reference collection to circulate. You will start to find them in the regular non-fiction collection emblazened with a bright 3 day sticker. We have decided to allow these books to circulate for three days, so that they may be used outside the library. There is a hefty fine of $10.00 perday to encourage their prompt return. We will still keep a small reference and ready reference collection, but it will be stream-lined. Technology has changed the way libraries conduct business and it would be irresponsible to cling to old methods that no longer make sense. I will miss many of the old favorites in reference, but I feel confident that the New City Library will continue to provide excellent reference help, no matter what form it takes.