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The evolving face of shelves and desks

Harvard Library Reading Room

Libraries have always been many things, but one thing they’ve generally focused on is providing materials and places to read and engage with those materials. Shelves and desks.

With more and more of our collections moving online, an internet connection is now the equivalent of a shelf for our electronic collections, browsers and computer desktops are now the places to read and engage with those materials.

This hit home for us in a big way when our wifi infrastructure crumbled under the ever-increasing demands on its resources (thank heavens for smart and dedicated IT folks!) and when “use one of the library computers” wasn’t an alternative any more because they were all in use. All three labs of them.

I used to think of wifi and computer access in libraries more as amenities. People come here to do their academic work, so isn’t it great that they can stay here and actually do their work. But over the last few years I’ve decided that our collections and the assignments that our faculty require have evolved such that it’s no longer useful to think of these and things like them as “extras.” These are our shelves. These are our desks. These are part of our core mission. We provide materials and ways of engaging with those materials, just as we have always done.