As we head into the end of the financial year, I have been finalising the titles that we wish to get on standing order for our print reference collection for the next financial year. I have been with this library service for many years, but even in the last 15, its amazing how much this aspect of the library service has changed.
Although the collection size has only grown overall, the print reference collection has shrunk dramatically. In our biggest example, our largest library went from 18 x 2 metre bays (a total of 90 shelves) at the turn of the century, to a mere 24 shelves now. And this will further reduce in coming years.
Is the age of the reference print book over? Not entirely. There are still certain reference titles that all branches still want, like the Law Handbook, the Melways and the Vicroads Country Street Directory, amongst others. Even though this content is all available freely online, some people are still more comfortable with it in book form and want to access it at a moments notice.
In our larger branches there are more resources, specifically chosen to meet the needs of their users but nonetheless, in much smaller numbers than they used to be.
I love the online world. I can look up anything at a moments notice, on any of the Internet-connected devices that I have ready access to. Its quick and easy and easy to use. But there are still some things either better in print, or that people still prefer to use in print, so that’s what we will keep providing, at least for now.
I believe that books generally will still be around for many, many years to come. Books that can only be referred to in the library and are kept for reference access only, I’m not so sure.
But it has me thinking about print reference collections in other libraries. Do they still exist? What do they look like? Do they have a lifespan beyond this year, this decade? What’s your experience of this specialist field and what do you think of its future?