Last week my colleague Bert Zeeman published a poll “Open stack, get rid of it!” (in Dutch) with 3 options:
2. Help, no, open stacks are the backbone of the scientific library
3. Nonsense, like always the truth lies in the middle.
I voted for option 3, which is a bit spineless at first sight, I admit, but in my defense I can say, that I ended my explanatory comment with a somewhat more outspoken choice. Briefly, what I said was this:
But on the other hand, current developments are that our customers do their searching and finding off site more and more.
So to be honest, I guess I believe option 1 is more realistic.
This description of my state of mind is a good illustration of the current ambiguous library open stack situation.
For library customers who like to come to the library, look around, hold books in their hands and browse through them, obviously open stacks are definitely not a thing of the past. They can be a source for unexpected discoveries and instant satisfaction. This applies to the majority of the customers of public libraries, I guess.
For customers of scientific libraries, in my opinion in most cases the situation is quite different. Students most of the time know what they are looking for. So do researchers and teachers: no need for browsing, just locate the book, get it and check it out, order online, or download the full text article. Customers like this get along with open and closed stacks, on site and off site searching.
In the near future federated search systems, union catalogs, repositories and virtual collections combined with web 2.0 features like book covers and author profiles, together with the ever growing pools of digitised books, will be the new digital open stacks. They will take over the function of browsing, discovering and sampling books, journals and other objects. Eventually the typical public library customer will also prefer these open stacks 2.0.
Library buildings will more and more fulfill the role of meeting place, exposition hall, etc.
Open stacks will undergo the fate of vinyl records, paper telephone directories and steam engines. Only for real lovers of the printed book there will be dedicated open stack rooms and book museums like the Library of Congress. But this is still a couple of years away.