What happened to the reference section?
"It's been moved to the third floor," says a librarian at the information desk. The third floor, not accessible to the public, is an unfinished space used for storing periodicals, old furniture and library files. "If there's a particular book you're looking for," she adds, "I can get it for you."
But what if patrons don't know what they're looking for? How would they browse the section?
The librarian doesn't have an answer. Instead, she asks, "Would you like to fill out a complaint form?"
Another librarian, passing within earshot, mutters, "Please do."
Library Director Sona Dombourian says the reference section was moved earlier in the month to make way for more computers. "We're doing some rearranging," she says. "As libraries change, we're finding quite a bit of the information traditionally found in books are now available through our electronic databases over the Internet. So we're relocating some of those reference books. We have a storage space currently up on our third floor, and we're relocating some of those lesser used books, putting them up on the third floor."
But the entire collection, not just a handful of books, were moved upstairs and out of the public's reach. Dombourian says the move, in part, was only temporary, and that some of the reference section will find its way back onto the second floor after setting up the new computers and determining which books patrons use the most. In the meantime, the library will allow patrons conducting research to access the third floor.
The reference collection was downsized once before in 1998 when the library first added computers. One in every four of the main branch's patrons utilizes the computers. There are currently 30 computers for public use in the library, and the new additions will bring that number to 57 for Internet use, Microsoft Office applications, database access and children's educational games.
A week after contacting Dombourian about the move, some of the reference materials had returned to the shelves and a few empty work stations without computers were in place. Sources close to the library say there never was any intention of moving any of the section back to the second floor until The Independent Weekly inquired about the move. Dombourian now says that as librarians pull reference books from the third floor, they are simply re-shelving them on the second floor.
But the decision to move the collection, Dombourian says, was not hers. "The department head is the one who actually made that decision," she says. "I was not aware of it. I'm sorry to say that I often spend many days in meetings and in my office, and I don't always get to walk the floor."
"It's kind of a chicken and egg kind of thing," Dombourian adds. "What do you do first? Do you move the books to put the computers and then put the books? Do you put the computers down, but then everything's real crowded and then you shift again? While I did not make the call to move those books right now, the reason they moved the books right now was so that they could then clean off the shelves and easily move the shelves to put the computers."
Libraries across the nation are finding themselves in this peculiar pinch, trying to balance patrons' access to books with the increased demand for computers.
Leslie Burger, president-elect of the American Library Association, is also the director of the Princeton Public Library in Princeton, New Jersey. She says that while reference sections are integral to the operation of libraries, how that information is acquired is changing. "Many people now rely on the Web to get a lot of those same resources," she says. "Many libraries have increasingly purchased digital content on the Web through a subscription to replace some of those print resources. That is becoming very common." And the greatest advantage for patrons, she says, is that they have access to the latest updated information.
Burger's library moved into a new facility in 2004, and in the process it threw away many of its reference books and quadrupled the number of computers. There are 100 computers in the Princeton library that she says are in use "all day, every day." But before making that move, she and her staff studied which books were being used the most. She says, "Generally speaking, I would say the trend is to begin shrinking those print collections because so much of that content is either available through the Web or digitally. So many libraries are putting in more computers than books at this point." Dombourian says there was not a survey or study conducted on the reference section before moving it.
In addition to dealing with how patrons access information, Dombourian says the main library is also dealing with the added problem of space constraints. This spring, the main branch will begin a planning process for a complete renovation, as part of the $40 million bond approved by Lafayette residents in November 2002. Residents will be able to offer their ideas on improving the 30-year-old facility. After being put out for bid, renovations should begin in 2009.
For now, Dombourian says there's no need to be alarmed by the glaring empty shelves on the second floor. "Our intent is to improve our services to the public, and I think that's what this is," she says. "But at some point, someone notices, and I'm actually quite flattered that somebody noticed. It kind of gives me that warm fuzzy that someone's still using our books, and books are still important in life. I think that's wonderful."
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Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Friday, December 20, 2013:
Lafayette Parish School Board member Greg Awbrey deserves an attaboy for his unexpected vote during Wednesday’s meeting approving a mediation session between the board and Superintendent Pat Cooper.
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The State Bond Commission gave preliminary approval to the borrowing plan Thursday without objection.
The Pediatric Clinic is housed in the same location previously closed by state budget cuts in June 2012.
Three-term Louisiana senator facing tough re-election battle is next in line for Energy Committee chairmanship.
In a letter distributed during Wednesday night's meeting, Lafayette Parish School Board member Shelton Cobb, in his final meeting as board president, called on his fellow board members to start focusing on the children and stop battling Superintendent Pat Cooper.
Joshua Dore of Breaux Bridge was sentenced Tuesday to 1.5 years in prison for counterfeiting, according to a press release issued by U.S. Attorney Stephanie Finley’s office on Wednesday.
School super Pat Cooper alleges Lafayette Parish School Board member Mark Allen Babineaux, an attorney, publicly disclosed the details of a closed-door executive session.
Sun Belt commissioner presents title and practice gets under way in preparation for Saturday
Kerry Bertrand’s charge was upgraded Tuesday by an Acadia Parish grand jury from manslaughter to second-degree murder for his alleged role in the drowning death of his stepdaughter, Skylar Credeur.
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Eight former employees of The Times-Picayune have sued the newspaper and parent Advance Publications Inc., alleging their layoffs violated a longstanding "job security pledge" and age discrimination laws.
Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration hasn't done an independent performance review of its $363 million privatization contract for mental health and addictive disorder treatment services.
"Whether it's the tackle position, whether it's a player on defense ... we're going to look closely at what our options are and what gives us the best chance."
Get to Cajun Field today and show your bowl-bound pride