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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship Summer 1999

Book Reviews

Civic Space/Cyberspace: The American Public Library in the Information Age

Daryl C. Youngman
Chair of Science Libraries
Kansas State University
dyou@ksu.edu

Civic Space/Cyberspace: The American Public Library in the Information Age. Redmond Kathleen Molz and Phyllis Dain. Cambridge, MA, MIT Press, 1999. 259p. $30.00 (ISBN 0-262-13346-6).
The title accurately describes the focus of this book and, in fact, it will be of greatest value to those interested in public libraries. So why would science and technology librarians, particularly those in academic libraries, benefit from reading this book? The title indicates the reason. Cyberspace is never truly private space, and many science and technology libraries exist as part of communities, both physical and virtual, where patrons (in both types of libraries) access both public library and academic library resources. Increasingly, science and technology libraries are developing digital library resources, based upon local strengths and resources, that often are not subject to the same licensing and access restrictions as conventional information products. Despite having a specialized clientele, sci/tech librarians should maintain a sensitivity that makes information resources available to a much wider audience.

Molz is a Professor of Public Affairs at the School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University, and Dain is Professor Emerita of Library Science at Columbia. This combination of expertise seems to have been effective in the preparation of this book, as the authors present the topic in a context that sheds new and beneficial light on issues that are already familiar to many librarians.

In their preface, authors Dain and Molz chronicle two journeys: one actually to visit several public libraries across the country, and the other into "cyberspace and the ever-evolving dimensions of the information age." The research deriving from these journeys is presented in a well-documented, scholarly fashion. The pace slows at times but the book, in general, is both informative and enjoyable to read.

The book begins with an extensive history of public library development from the nineteenth century to its multi-faceted role in modern life. Throughout, this history is told in the context of the public library's function as a part of the community. It was refreshing to be reminded of Vannevar Bush's 1945 coining of the word "memex" to denote a "scholar's workstation that would store books, records, and other forms of communication and that would be so mechanized that retrieval of these data could be done with exceeding speed and flexibility." Science and technology librarians will find this section quite helpful in understanding the role of any library in the community of cyberspace.

The chapter on governance and funding of public libraries would likely be of value to public librarians, but it is of limited interest to sci/tech librarians. Another section discussing the increasing federal role in the development of libraries lays the groundwork for further development of the concept of libraries and community .

The final two chapters pull together the foregoing discussions of history, policy, and social development. Dain and Molz present a detailed history of the early developments, both social and technological, which led to the Internet. This history is thoroughly researched and presented in such an excellent fashion that this chapter could stand on its own as a history of the overwhelming developments in library technology that have taken place in recent years.

In the final chapter the authors vividly describe the library of today and its virtual community in the digital age. They examine issues of changing patron demographics, implications of increasing remote-access use of libraries and new roles for librarians in this technological future. The focus on community that has been maintained throughout the book continues in this section. While these scenarios are presented from the perspective of public libraries, most science and technology librarians will see implications that strongly parallel their own experiences.

Changes in technology have combined with changes in patron use patterns to a degree that science and technology librarians have reason to be concerned about their role as part of a virtual, if not physical, community. For librarians seeking to understand this role, this book is a good starting point.

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