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Library of Congress Revamping Technology, Reading Rooms

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By guest blogger Mike Hricik

As libraries continue to acclimate to a digitized information landscape, there are bound to be growing pains, even at the country's most comprehensive institutions. The Library of Congress is overhauling its technological capacities and physical spaces, and not everyone agrees with the changes, according to a recent Washington Post article.

Here are some of the new modifications to expect during future Library visits, physical or digital:

• Centralization of several of the Library's subject-specific reading rooms in and around its Main Reading Room will make the "experience of in-person researching more like the kind of one-stop shop we've come to expect online," according to the Post. However, the professional union representing the Library's workers has endorsed a set of papers by reference librarian Thomas Mann, who has decried the plan, introduced last October, according to an article by The Chronicle of Higher Education. Mann writes that reference services would be diminished because navigating the Library's massive collections requires special expertise.

The Washington Post also reports that Web resources will be redesigned to operate more intuitively, like popular sites such as Facebook, Amazon, and others. Websites that the library's various divisions created as the Internet became popular the 1990s will also be consolidated.

• Recently, the Library of Congress has experimented with posting some items online before they are completely indexed, such as the papers by American Red Cross founder Clara Barton that are now available on its website.

• The Library is transitioning to a free, online-only system of resource cataloging, according to its website. This means employees will no longer print new editions of its subject headings, classification schedules, and other cataloging publications. The Library will instead provide free downloadable PDF versions of these titles.

In an interview, Library of Congress Communications Director Gayle Osterberg said officials there will continue "to evaluate its spaces," most likely through the end of 2013. Implementing changes could extend into 2014 and 2015, she added. Osterberg said administrators are considering multiple factors related to moving areas like the local history and genealogy rooms, including access to reference librarians and security.

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