Alchemical Thoughts

Thoughts regarding the question: if the library closed tomorrow, would anyone miss it?

Posted on: November 1, 2010

My two readers know that another reason I keep a commonplace blog on a different service is that Blogger is notorious for its bad moments. Well, today we seem to be having one of those moments since, for reason unknown, Blogger just refused to publish the post below I had scheduled for today. I pretty much checked under the hood, and I have no idea other than the service being a royal pain. Anyhow, below is the post I intended to publish, which I will then link to over there. Sorry to my two readers for making you skip a bit. You can leave any comments here or over there.


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If your library closed tomorrow, would anyone miss it? That’s the provocative question that Professor Steven Bell presented sometime last a couple of weeks ago in the blog Designing Better Libraries.This got me thinking. If my library closed tomorrow, would anyone miss it? Maybe that day was not the best day to ask me that question since I was not feeling particularly confident of getting a positive answer. Maybe it’s all those stories about libraries closing down making me depressed. Sure, our library here does consistently well in service and satisfaction surveys. However, Professor Bell points out that just because people are satisfied it does not follow that the community will miss us. Professor Bell goes on to discuss that our patrons are customers; our profession has certainly done quite a bit to encourage consumer behavior and expectations (whether that is good, bad, or in-between is another question for another day). The point to keep in mind is that consumers are fickle; they are not loyal, and they will jump ship from brand to brand based on needs, taste, suitability, availability, and so on. The availability angle is very important because it speaks about how easily a consumer can move on to another brand if their current brand becomes unavailable.

Which brings me back to the original question– if our library closed tomorrow, would anyone miss it? I decided to pose the question to our instruction librarian after our small library newsletter planning meeting. We work together to edit and put together the newsletter. She had plenty to say, as I knew she would, and I will say she did lift my spirits. The woman should get her own blog one of these days, but in the meantime, these are some arguments she made about why we would not be missed with my comments and observations.

Her bottom line was that many people might think that they would not miss the library initially. However, after they noticed all the things that the library provides that they take for granted, they would certainly miss it. So, what are some of those things we provide that our patrons and clients take for granted?

  • Study space. She mentioned this, and I countered that we have just built a brand new University Student Center, which has tons of spaces for students to study individually and in groups. She being the wily lady she is granted what I said but made an addition– those spaces are NOT quiet spaces. She had a point. Our library surveys from LibQual+ to in-house surveys consistently say that students value quiet space for study. This does not take away from those who need or like to study in groups. It does say though that a significant amount of students like quiet space, and in this university, we are pretty much the only place on campus that provides it. If you close the library down, that option would likely be gone.
  • Research and reference assistance. The students may not think of this until they actually need it, but research help for papers and other projects is crucial. If the library closed down, students pretty much would have nowhere else to go in this regard. Sure, they can use Google, but we all know how that works out. And you can forget about the professors. While there are exceptions, a large number of professors do not know how to do research themselves, or they have not kept up with changes in how research is done, or they are unwilling to set time aside in their classes to teach research skills to their students. This leads me to the next point.
  • Librarians are the ones on campus who pretty much make it their job to keep up with changes in research methods and technologies. Not only do we teach students on research methods and new technologies, we often teach the faculty as well. Some database Professor Doe uses changed the interface and now he can’t find the articles he needs? He has issues accessing the database from  home? Who do you think he calls first? He calls the library and its librarians; even if it is some issue that will be answered by campus IT, and we refer him there, the first line of defense so to speak is the library. He does not want to give up time from his class for a library session, so, if he remembers, he sends his students to the library.
  • And while we are on the subject of faculty and research, guess who organizes, maintains, provides access and support for databases and other resources. Yes, that would be the library. Now, some detractor might argue that we can close the library and let the academic departments handle their own journal and database subscriptions. That’s not likely to happen. For openers, the cost of those subscriptions comes out of the library’s own very limited budget. Except for some select items, departments do not pay for databases, and for the rare things they do chip in part of the cost, they do so reluctantly and under protest. Plus we do acquire those subscriptions and care for them on their behalf in packages, often more efficiently than if each individual department got a few bucks (from the theoretically closed down library’s now available budget). Database access is basically a crucial and essential thing we provide, mostly behind the scenes, that faculty and students pretty much take for granted. Close the library tomorrow, and all that would be gone as well. I don’t see who would pick up the slack. Sure, maybe the IT department would deal with some tech issues, but who will deal with vendors, make the resources accessible, findable, answer questions from users ranging from how to use it to why it’s not working at this moment in time? That’s the library and its staff.
  • We teach students both individually and in groups. If we are not there, who will provide for things like research consultations? Or who would teach information literacy? The debate on who should/does teach information literacy on a campus goes back and forth, but at the end of the day, the library tends to be the strongest and most knowledgeable advocated when it comes to information literacy.
  • And yes, we still have books in print and electronic formats. Even with the clamor to put everything online and that e-books will pretty much take over, many patrons still want “regular” books.But let us say for the sake of argument that most, if not all, of our books go electronic. Who ends up teaching patrons how to access and use them? The librarians who keep up with the technology so they can show others how to use them (see previous point). And what I said about databases applies here too.

Overall, I’d say the library would be missed if it closed tomorrow. I can probably add a few other reasons it would be missed, but that’s what I have at this time. Yes, it would be missed, but the customers/patrons/clients would probably not realize it until it’s too late.


Just my two cents.


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