Alchemical Thoughts

Article Note: On Morphing Libraries

Posted on: April 4, 2008

This is just some random set of thoughts, which is why I am just scratching it here on this blog. I may consider adding a tag to this blog labeled "stuff the boss makes me read." Kind of like when Keith Olbermann does his celebrity segments and claims his producers force him to cover X or Y celebrity. While the boss did not put a gun on my head to read it, she did chase me down to put it in my hands. Now that I have time to think about it, it reminds me of that old cartoon where Daffy Duck is trying to evade the little man from the draft board. Anyhow, the boss gave us the copy of the article. In fact, she even included her notes in the photocopy, which I found myself sort of answering or probing as I read. So, first, the article citation:

Waters, John K. "The Library Morphs." Campus Technology April 2008: 52-58.

Read via: my boss bringing it over (she probably got it online at http://www.campustechnology.com here.)

This is the type of thing that I know would have fallen on my aggregator sooner or later. Heck, it may be there now since I am a bit behind on my feed reading. Work has been busy around here, what can I say? Anyways, the piece is basically an overview of Ohio State's plan to renovate their big library at the cost of $109 million dollars. I wish I had that problem,so to speak. But snark aside, there are some things to consider, which I am guessing is why my boss picked it up. That she just got back from some conference out East dealing with library spaces may also have something to do with it. Anyways, we are digressing.

The essence of the article is the idea, which is becoming somewhat old by now given all the hype it has gotten in the L2 circles, that libraries are becoming flexible learning spaces. It is the same idea that goes along reducing book and materials collections to make more spaces for students. This does sound like a great thing, but the skeptic in me always wonders at what price. What are we losing in the process? I just think that a sense of balance is being lost.

Some of the notes then:

  • At Ohio State, their ten-year renovation is nearing completion. One of the things they did was reduce their materials, specifically books. They did not necessarily get rid of them. They used a combination of compact shelving and off-site storage. However, they did reduce their volume count from 2 million to 1.25 million. Ohio State is still doing collection development, and they have an "influx" of books. Influx is not a problem here. And my boss helpfully jotted down that we reduced our own volume count from 215,000 to 180, 000. Our volume count will probably be further reduced as we move with some aggressive weeding to make some more learning spaces. Which is fine except that a lot of materials are not going to be replaced. Given that the collection is pretty much at close to zero growth already, I personally have my concerns. The boss knows about it; I am not saying anything new here.
  • The guy at Ohio State also points out that one needs to recognize "the growing amount of quality resources available online, and the impracticality of shelving an endless influx of books" (54). First, those quality resources that are available online are often not free. Not only are they not free, but they cost a lot, and the cost keeps rising. In our case, since the materials budget is frozen in time, every time the cost of those online resources goes up, it means we cut even more away from the other types of materials. I will leave the two readers of this blog to take that to a logical conclusion. Second, as for the impractical influx, that is what selective collection development is for. It is what a librarian is trained for: to make decisions as to what goes in the collection and what does not. I get the slight impression that remark is made by someone who does not have to worry (as much) about a materials budget and can pretty much get anything his heart desires.
  • At Ohio State, "there's a very robust wireless infrastructure and lots of places to plug in a laptop" (54). We lack the first one, and we are trying to address the second one. If we give our boss credit for something, it is a healthy enthusiasm, "can do" attitude. I think we can get some more plugs in for those laptops students bring in. I am not so sure about getting the infrastructure to be more robust. Money can do a lot of things, but you have to have it.
  • This definitely caught my attention. In part, it is something I have known: that often the spaces students use for their studying are places that are out of the way. "[Scott Bennett, a library design consultant] says that his own surveys show that some of the most productive learning spaces on campus are among the most disregarded: empty classrooms or 'accidents of architecture' filled with cast-off furniture and yet crowded with students. Computer labs, he says, don't rate highly on these surveys" (54).
  • In their renovation, Ohio State has two instruction rooms (56). My boss wrote in the margin that we need instruction space. She won't get a disagreement from me there. She also wrote that we need to improve our individual and group study rooms. She won't get disagreement from me there either. Here's my take: how do we actually do it? More importantly, do it, not just implement some short term band-aid? Seeing my instruction librarian linger between an inadequate meeting room in the library for doing instruction or having to walk all over campus to use someone else's computer lab or electronic classroom is something I find sad to say the least. As someone who had to work without instruction space for a few months during a renovation, I certainly feel some of her pain. I could say more on this topic, but that would be another story for another time.
  • One other thing I found problematic is the observation by Lynn Scott Cochrane, of Denison U. in Ohio, that students don't distinguish between books, media, and computer software, that it is all one thing to them (58). This statement is used to justify taking more resources online. But I think it is also indicative of another serious problem: the lack of good information literacy skills. One of the early discoveries we are making in our recent usability testing is that students are not as knowledgeable in this regard. They have difficulties interpreting a citation in order to locate an article. They cannot tell the catalog (which you use to find books) from an article database. I don't think that should be a point of pride nor something to brag about. It should not be a promo point either to simply surrender to the electronic waves. This is something I have considered as I read some other items in the literature: here, here, here, and here for instance. But what do I know? I am just a reference and instruction librarian in the trenches.

Anyways, there are my two cents. If my boss asks at some point if I read the article, I may just send her this link. I am not sure yet. I don't want to sound negative. I think we do need to offer better spaces for students to take control of their learning. I believe our role as librarians, one of the roles at least, should be that of facilitators. But I also think that in order to facilitate, you have to have resources to offer. And not everything is online. A lot of it is, but not everything. While Google Books may let you search for a lot of content, you are not going to get everything from it; eventually, Google will prompt you to buy the book and very "helpfully" point you to Amazon or a similar vendor. Same thing with Google Scholar, though we can often make that work with our databases. You may get better search interface with Google Scholar, but you still have to pay for the premium content somehow. Contrary to some trendy people's thinking, the future is not necessarily free. It costs, and it costs a lot. Add to it that electronic sources are not owned, but merely rented, and one should at least show some concern. Can we reduce our print materials? Sure, and we should do so, but we should do so with good judgment and thinking. And we should keep some print items and offer them as well. It's a matter of balance. Then again, what do I know? I am just a mere librarian in the trenches.

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2 Responses to "Article Note: On Morphing Libraries"

My library is going through this right now. The materials in my department is going into compact shelving and into a second depository building that was just built. Books and journals are being moved out to make room for a "learning commons." My workspace for processing is going to be turned into a study room. This is all well and good, and what the students have asked for – mainly more computers, less, well, everything else. But it's very irksome to see all the work going into it when all I mostly see is Facebook and ESPN game scores on every computer. I guess we'll see in a few years how libraries with less books turns out.

Well, at least you get a depository building or remote location. In our case, as we weed, stuff goes, more often than not to never be replaced. And yes, the FB, ESPN, plus MySpace is pretty much what I see as well, but you know that if you question that, the L2 people are just going to see you are not being "student oriented" or something similar. Anyhow, the vision here is we will aggressively weed out the reference area, which means most of the stuff taken out will not be replaced, and it will make room for some kind of "commons" space (what? not sure yet, but that is the plan). We'll see as well. Best, and keep on blogging.

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