Volume 28, Number 4, Winter 2006

Library: Place, Service, or Both?

By Nora Hardy, Assistant Director, South Central Regional Library Council

In 1931, when S. R. Ranganathan developed his Five Laws of Library Science, 1 the discipline was completely defined by printed-paper media – the time-honored means of recording, storing, and disseminating knowledge. In 1995, Walt Crawford and Michael Gorman postulated the Five New Laws of Library Science, 2 primarily to reflect the rapidly multiplying forms for communicating knowledge – electronic files, databases, and Web sites, in addition to books. The changes in the “laws” between 1931 and 1995 indicated the need for new ways of thinking about how libraries make information available to their users.

To assure their continued relevancy and meet user needs, libraries must rethink and transform many traditional spaces and services. Two “streams” of library practice are evolving to meet these needs: library as place, and library as service. Most libraries, regardless of type, will continue to incorporate aspects of both library concepts, but will need help in making the necessary changes.

The challenge is to rapidly understand and implement services in two distinct arenas:

  1. The Library as Place incorporates the traditional physical space providing access and storage for traditional media (printed materials and other physical formats, face-to-face lectures and events) and adds components which take advantage of on-site electronic tools and the “community information forum” aspects of newer library services: new configurations of space for group, individual, and storage usage; dedicated collections on special topics; circulation of electronic devices; and access and support for sophisticated multi-media production equipment.
  2. The Library as Service continues the tradition of the library as authoritative repository for information access, but takes advantage of increasingly diverse and complex delivery mechanisms. For many of these services, the library’s size and geographic proximity to the user are irrelevant. The user can now take advantage of a huge array of online resources, new forms of interlibrary loan, distance learning support, virtual reference, digital publishing, and digital repositories.
To help libraries in its region to recognize and meet the challenges of the changing environment and patron expectations, the South Central Regional Library Council (SCRLC) applied for and was awarded a Library Science and Technology Act (LSTA) grant from the New York State Library’s Department of Library Development to fund a sixteen-session series of workshops. The target audience for this project was staff members of the more than five hundred libraries in the SCRLC region, especially library planners and administrators.

Through the planned series of workshops, participants would learn to:

  • Evaluate the services and spaces currently used by their patrons;
  • Scan the environment for current and future trends of significance for their users;
  • Obtain concrete advice on how to implement and administer projects to serve their patrons within well-designed physical spaces, using new technological and electronic tools, and offering services to meet current and anticipated future needs;
  • Learn to assess the success of their efforts and to identify opportunities to adjust and elaborate on those projects as needed; and
  • Develop successful plans to publicize the library and its offerings.
As of fall 2006, nine of the sixteen planned workshops have been held. Sessions have included broad topics such as assessment, project management, and marketing, as well as tightly focused sessions such as readers’ advisory services, library outreach, and information commons development. More than 150 library staff members from the SCRLC region and elsewhere have attended, representing more than seventy libraries, systems, and consortia. Project speakers have been experts in their field with both scholarly and practical experience to share with attendees.

Participants’ evaluations have been extremely positive regarding the value of the workshop topics and opportunities for discussion. Attendees have repeatedly praised the practicality of the speakers’ recommendations. A recurring theme has been that the ideas participants gained could be successfully implemented at their own library. The participant evaluations indicate that SCRLC’s workshop series is raising and clarifying issues that libraries must address as they transform their buildings and services to meet evolving user needs and rapidly changing technologies.

SCRLC is a multi-type library consortium, based in Ithaca, NY, which serves fourteen counties covering approximately ten thousand square miles in southern New York State.


  1. S. R. Ranganathan, The Five Laws of Library Science, Bombay: Asia House, 1964.
  2. Crawford, Walt and Michael Gorman, Future Libraries: Dreams, Madness and Reality, Chicago, American Library Association, 1995.