I am pleased to have reached this end point of my chosen research project – the completed dissertation – but I have enjoyed the process too. I feel that I have met the objectives I set, certainly on a personal level. That in itself is quite an achievement because even when I submitted the project proposal, which was quite a long time after coming up with the idea, I still did not know if I would be able to combine the subjects I wanted to cover and still examine them in enough depth.
To put this all into context, I arrived at the study of Library Science at the age of 41, twenty years after studying for my first degree; time that I spent working in marketing for the storage and handling industry. I quickly realised the connections between my past and my (possible) future: storage and handling – libraries do it too; producing and managing documents – libraries do it too. I like connections, especially ones that aren’t immediately obvious. While some of my colleagues on the course were ready to leap into the immediate future to work in the digital library, I needed to build some foundations. I couldn’t go into a new field without a firm grasp of the basic principles, and the history. This study has been that personal exercise in learning and understanding the key processes in the physical and intellectual development of libraries in the part of the world in which I live and intend to operate. Now I feel like I can walk into a room full of librarians and have something to say. No doubt many of them would have different approaches to the field; perhaps from the perspective of the reader, and how libraries have changed peoples lives. I had to focus on what was of most interest to me. This is why this project is broad in scope and invests so much in understanding what others have studied, before advancing into new territory.
When I visited Michael Williams at the BSF in early summer this year I knew I had made the right choice in studying the early 21st–century library warehouse as the culmination of the processes I had chosen as my subject. It was at once completely familiar – my previous work caused me to visit and write about perhaps 100 newly opened warehouse operations across Europe between 1997 and 2011 – and fascinatingly different. The photographs in Appendix B on the following page say it all – industrial racking stacked with books from one of the greatest libraries in the world. Again, connections.
To be able to look back in time to the intellectual ideas that brought us to this point completed the feeling. The most fascinating thing about early modern intellectuals such as Leibniz is that they were practitioners as much as thinkers; yet some of the things they thought are not tied to the time in which they lived and worked but reach even beyond where (or when) we are today. The history of ideas is not really history when those ideas are just as valid now as when they originated. Connections.
To end with an example, the trade publication Storage Handling Distribution – which I cite in the chapter Perpetuate, having received a scan from a paper copy retrieved from the ASB – is one that used to publish some of the case studies I wrote professionally. No doubt some of my words are in one of those dark voids, possibly never to return. That makes me happy.
There is much scope for further research into the design and operation of library warehouses worldwide, but the fact that many of these are semi–commercial enterprises – and particularly their reliance on purely commercial partners such as architects and logistics consultancies – may restrict how much information will be available to the interested scholar in the near–term.