We didn't answer the question 'The 21st Century Library: A Physical or Virtual Place?' at the University of Manchester on 5/5/11 Part of the HEDQF dialogue series on the Higher Education sector - its both by the way - just as it always has been.
But we did hear ideas from across the sector and beyond and from librarians, educators, architects and estate and facilities managers. I really enjoy these debates, I think its thrilling that we can fill a lecture theatre and talk about libraries - their function, their design, their symbolic importance, their continued relevance - or irrelevance - the idea of a library was important for everyone in the room. Libraries are very difficult to describe though aren't they? The moment you think you have captured the essence, or distilled it - it evaporates, it shifts and morphs into something else - this I believe is because libraries are about the art of the possible. Alberto Manguel describes libraries as 'pleasantly mad places' and I think this is as good a description as we can hope for. The whole ecosystem is changing, the recent trend for learning commons complements and reflects social media phenomena, new libraries are not built for administrative simplicity but to foster human to human interaction, communication and knowledge syndication. The new library is a social interface as much as Facebook, its a physical community space. I agree with Churchill who said that 'we shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us' that what libraries do and will continue to do.
Take a look at Fred Garnett's (@fredgarnett) slides from his encyclopedic romp'Putting Context into Knowledge; Future of Libraries as post-Enlightenment projects' http://slidesha.re/lyHwwJ it was great to see him as it always is and also to have the event chaired by the great, insightful & irrepressible John Dolan (@johnrdolan)