Where is the library? Right here and I care about that.

(This one is primarily for the academics.)

When people ask me what future I predict for the library of one thing I am certain: the conversations will remain primarily the same! We will continue to fret about our roles changing, access to information changing and budgets. The specific shells will change, but I doubt the nature will change much over the next ten years. I am interested to see what the next gen of librarians (raised on cell phones and a world primarily viewed from a 4 inch screen) worry about.  Perhaps by then Siri will have taken over many of our jobs?

Do you care if students come in your library? Heavily used physical spaces imply resource usage which implies inherent value. Rather than argue about that cross-libraryland, let’s look at this idea from the academic standpoint. I do think public and special libraries clearly face different issues in regards to goals and defending their value. I see something different for academic libraries.

I care if students come into our library. I don’t care if they use our resources while in the library. Not one bit. Why would we spend time and money beefing our digital collections and subscriptions if we insisted that they use those resources in our space? Hanging on to print for dear life as a means of library identity is stifling. I see some libraries budgeting for level 5 collections, but to what end? Furloughs and less staff? Not that budgets are tit for tat. The library consortiums partnering to ensure one physical copy of an item is stored and available for use have got it right in my opinion. As long as digitization and therefore, instant access of those items continues.

I do care if students come in. I spend some of my days out and about, being available to students in our Starbucks, student union and even gym. I no longer expect them to come to me. This model is dying and those holding on to it are making dinosaurs of themselves and our profession. I do want the library as a physical space to continue. Physical spaces such as places of worship, cemeteries, museums and educational institutions are more than merely representational of ideas,  beliefs, dillusions, culture, identity or hundreds of other human creations.

A physical space marked for a specific purpose is not entirely the domain of humans. Naked mole rats create complex tunnel structures complete with bathrooms. My cat drags toys to his favorite sleeping spot. As kids, nothing is more romantic or desired than a space of one’s own be it a treehouse, blanket fort or bedroom. Well-off Westerners love to wax poetic about peoples living all in one small house intergenerationally. The Apple store is admired and packed not just because of the products sold, but because of the experience the distinctive physical space promises.

A library promises certain types of experiences. Heather Lea Jackson and Trudi Bellardo Hahn’s excellent piece in the September 2011 College and Research Libraries, Serving Higher Education’s Highest Goals: Assessment of the Academic Library as Place, illustrates well the feelings libraries can evoke. By using methodologies usually employed in the psychology of religion, the two explored how libraries impacted the connection users felt to an academic mission. Additionally they explored preferences for certain physical features of libraries users might have. Not surprisingly, the more classical libraries evoked the awe and seriousness of a trip to Notre Dame.

I am Jewish, but yet I have felt the presence of something greater than myself in medieval churches, wats in Thailand and the place at which the Holy Grail was allegedly found. The point was the place and the experience it represented. I would like to see my library include more academic offices such as Study Abroad and the Tutoring Center. I want my library full of users, but I do not have expectations for what they are using beyond filling the space with their energy. A library is not a sum of its books. It’s the hum of people. It’s access to information. It promises users that here they can be informed, enlightened, entertained should they choose.

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