Your excellent article about building tomorrow’s library and renovating Firestone (feature, Jan. 28) revealed much about current library culture and the vital need for thoughtful progress, not to an all-digital era, but to a long-term balance of permanent (paper, archival) and digital resources at libraries.
At my graduate school, U.C. Berkeley, as at Princeton, a fantastic open-stack library provided unique opportunities for browsing, finding, and comparing books; field-specific libraries kept basic reference works accessible. In my area, ancient history and Mediterranean archaeology, fewer than half the basic reference works are online, mostly within pay-only archives. When I studied abroad, Berkeley blocked my access to these sites, but fortunately I was at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, with its own subscriptions. Without institutional access, however, most online academic materials remain closed to the public and to many students.
Princeton should avoid the removal of pre-existing printed media from its libraries. The University of Southamp-ton library has taken the extreme step of eliminating everything in paper that is online; that content is restricted to students and faculty. For public users, books and journals used for years are now simply gone from the library and are inaccessible online.
Metadata and library online card catalogs are vital, but still in their infancy. At Princeton, we were hampered by an online catalog split between books published (or checked out) since 1980 and unwieldy scanned card images. At Berkeley, old command-line systems worked far better than new Web-based ones; at the American School in Athens, periodicals are absent from the online catalog. In all three online catalogs, I often find information misspelled and metadata incorrect. The key is access. We should treasure hard-copy books and card catalogs that exist, and work to make digital catalogs as complete and error-free as possible.