“If your history goes back far enough in the United States, then somewhere you have a Virginia ancestor,” said Sandra Treadway, Librarian of Virginia and State Archivist. That’s certainly true in my case. Treadway gave the keynote address to open the 2014 annual conference of the National Genealogical Society this morning (Wednesday) in Richmond, Virginia. She addressed the topic, “The Evolving Library.”
“The library of Virginia is all about preserving the past, but also providing access to it,” she said. There are challenges in doing that with evolving visitor needs and technologies.
The library and archive building was designed in the mid-1990s. The world then is worlds away from the world now. They can’t change buildings, so the building needs to change with it.
“If you come back in seven more years, it’s going to look and feel very, very different,” she said.
When they designed the building “it was very clear we were in the middle of a technology revolution,” she said. But they didn’t appreciate just how fast technology would evolve. The Internet was mostly email. There was no Google because there was nothing to search. For Internet access, tables in the library provided dial up lines.
Today visitors have lightweight computing devices and need Wi-Fi access. They store documents on flash drives. Economic pressures have caused staffing cuts and the likelihood is that they will never regain that lost staff.
They will add more lively signage out front to make the building more approachable. They want to lighten up the lobby space. “We want visitors to appreciate why their tax dollars support this organization.”
Part of the transformation they’re going through is not just how to use the library space, but how to best service visitors. Shifting the perspective and thinking of staff trained decades ago is a challenge. Visitors are less likely to approach a reference desk. They want someone out on the floor moving with them. They want signage that leads them to what they want. They need records and books used in common to be located near one another.
There are people who care about Virginia’s past but don’t do serious research like we do, said Treadway. The library needs to reach out to them. The library will try to engage them with book talks, exhibitions, talks, and group visits.
They have 118 million manuscript items. They need to get the relevant materials digitized and online. Prioritizing the digital plan needs to be planned from the users’ perspective. “That’s our goal, to make as much available digitally as we can,” she said.
Cataloging has to be complete so users have confidence that they’re not going to miss things.
In the past they could use human beings for tasks like redaction of private information. It could occur when each document was requested. Now it has to be done across an entire collection before it can be published online.
Looking back at pictures of the past, Treadway thinks about how things change very quickly. When compared with a photo from the 1940s, about the only thing that hasn’t changed is the chairs in the reading room. So how will the library look in just seven years from now?
“I can’t tell you today exactly what the library will look like but when you walk into our lobby…you’re going to feel energy…you’re not going to wonder where to go.”
The library and archive will still be about preserving documents of the past and giving access to them. It will all be focused on you.