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The humble library is under siege. In the UK, US and elsewhere, libraries are confronting a series of what could be said to be existential threats, from digitisation to book bans to a lack of government funding. Many people’s perceptions are that libraries are outdated, while stocking and promoting certain books has made them a ‘culture war’ battleground. The result is that institutions that are often vital hubs for the community and educational resources are under genuine threat.
In this climate, many libraries are fighting for their existence, with various economic pressures forcing them to take stock. An unassuming solution to these problems is the introduction of library mobile shelving systems. These alternatives to traditional shelves are not just saving money, but making spaces more adaptable – enabling libraries to offer more than just books to the communities around them.
Space has always been a precious commodity in libraries, and this is no different today. Along with the obvious point – there are more books to store every year – libraries are increasingly becoming community hubs, both as a public service and a means to attract new readers. As well as dedicating space for events such as book clubs and creches, libraries also host computers for people who don’t have access to them, but need them for things like billing and job applications.
Mobile shelving systems offer an ingenious solution to these capacity issues. Traditional fixed bookshelves consume considerable floor space, limiting the library’s capacity to accommodate new materials or create flexible spaces for a range of activities. Mobile shelving, on the other hand, utilises rolling shelves mounted on low-friction rails that can be compressed or expanded as needed, creating only one aisle at a time. By eliminating fixed aisles, libraries can make better use of their available space, ultimately increasing their book and resource capacities.
Mobile shelving systems allow libraries to create dynamic and accessible spaces for users. With the ability to move shelves effortlessly, librarians can easily customise the layout to meet specific needs, whether it be rearranging shelving units for an event or opening up space for collaborative work. Mobile shelving is also easy to open, with the option for a hand crank or electric motor to smoothly part the shelves.
Moreover, mobile shelving provides better visibility and navigability for patrons, as the compact nature of the shelving units enables clear sightlines across the library, and minimises the need for long aisles. This enhanced user experience encourages exploration and engagement within the library environment.
Libraries are often seen as a remedy to the digital age, but they also have to embrace it. Most libraries now allow people to borrow ebooks, Blu-rays and even video games, while IT services form a core part of their community offering. Tech has also transformed the process of tracking and borrowing books, allowing books to be borrowed from and sent to different libraries while keeping a record of where they ultimately came from.
Mobile shelving systems offer the flexibility to integrate these technologies seamlessly. These shelving systems can incorporate electronic monitoring systems, RFID tags, and other innovative technologies, allowing for more efficient inventory management, automated check-in/out processes, and real-time tracking of books and other borrowed items. By embracing these advancements, libraries can streamline their operations, improve user experiences, and remain at the forefront of the digital revolution.
Supporting the environment
As pioneers in the social space (and heavy users of paper), libraries also have an environmental responsibility. Mobile shelving can contribute to their sustainability efforts by optimising space, which reduces the need for excessive construction, minimising their environmental impact.
Mobile shelving systems can also help to conserve energy, reduce waste, and lower the overall carbon footprint associated with library expansions or renovations. Additionally, the increased storage capacity allows libraries to better manage their collections, promoting resource conservation and reducing unnecessary duplication.
Beyond technological leaps, the inherent adaptability of mobile shelving systems allows libraries to evolve with changing needs and trends. Whether it’s accommodating larger collections, creating dedicated spaces for different kinds of activities, or repurposing areas for one-off events, mobile shelving offers a versatile solution.
As libraries continue to transform into community hubs, with the integration of ‘makerspaces’ (community creative areas), galleries, multimedia centres and even co-working spaces, the flexibility of mobile shelving ensures that space can be reconfigured to suit evolving demands. There’s even the potential to install mobile picture racking to host and store artworks in a more space efficient and accessible manner.
In an era where technology has reshaped the way we access information, libraries have recognised the importance of adapting to the modern age. Mobile shelving systems have emerged as a transformative solution, revolutionising library spaces by maximising efficiency, enhancing accessibility, and integrating technology in a way that supports local communities.
While libraries remain important repositories of information, this is no longer confined to just books. By making book storage more efficient and flexible, mobile shelving systems are helping to create spaces that empower all kinds of learning and community-driven activities – a powerful impact for an unassuming piece of engineering.
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