Off the Library Map

by Paul Gatz

Every library should have a good map. A map offers a perspective that you cannot otherwise gain. From above, you can see the whole library spread out before you, enabling you to take it all in with one glance – the locations of different collections and call number runs, service points, computer labs, study rooms, and even seating options.


Odd angles do not make a space any less logical.

For the library user, a great deal of information can be conveyed in such a map – not just information about how the library is set up, but information about how knowledge is structured. State and federal materials have their own distinct areas, as do monographs and journals. If your map is supplemented with a breakdown of the major KF classifications, the user can become familiar with the major subject areas of law.

Of course, the map is an abstract representation, obscuring just as much as it reveals. After all, a knowledge of the KF schedules does not equal a knowledge of the law, just as a perusal of the library map does not equal a full appreciation of the library. Plainly, one cannot fully understand the structure of the library space when looking at a representation that omits one entire dimension of that space.

An accurate representation of the space of the library is no incidental thing. Borrowing from the early Wittgenstein when he notes that “[t]he facts in logical space are the world,” we might posit that “documents in logical space are a library.” Space is pure possibility and potentiality. A logical space is one constrained by rule-bound necessities. That logic dictates how you can move within that space – what you can do, say, or know. This idea of logical space is similar to the concept of “affordance.”

As librarians, one of our key duties is to design the logical space in which our users interact with information to create knowledge. This is not limited to the physical space of our building, our shelves, and our seating. It also includes the spaces we create online, as well as what could be called the service space that encompasses the range of interactions that are possible between users, on the one hand, and librarians and other library staff, on the other.

A library map can serve not only as a tool to aid library users in their navigation of the library, but also can be used by librarians to understand and evaluate the affordances provided to the user by the physical space of the library. Likewise, librarians may find it helpful to “map” the other, non-physical spaces of the library in order to better understand and improve the structure of those spaces – to define what the library user can do within them and how. Our libraries do not exist in just two or three dimensions, and our library maps should not be so limited either.


About Paul Gatz

Paul Gatz is a reference librarian and adjunct professor at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.
This entry was posted in Inspiration and Design Ideas, Planning and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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