Questions For An Academic Library

InsideHigherEd recently ran a post from an academic who is about to embark on a slew of college-campus tours with his daughter.

Although he admitted that his daughter would be interested in "the classrooms, sampling the food, and investigating the student center and athletic facilities," he is going to head to the library because he is "of the belief that the academic library is the heart of the academic enterprise."

He said he would have the following questions in mind:

  • What is the vibe of the space? Light-filled? Positive? Whimsical? Curious? Serious? Collaborative? Open?  
  • What is the density of human interaction in the library? Does the space feel like where the campus comes to study, research, and learn?
  • Are there lots of space for groups of students to study together?   
  • Are there quiet places where students can read, write, research, and think in solitude?
  • How visible are librarians at the library? Does it seem easy to get help with research projects? How many conversations between students and librarians are in evidence?
  • Does the physical layout of the library match the academic culture of the institution?  
  • Is the library designed in a way that seems planned out and integrated, or does the physical layout and architecture feel more stuck together without an overarching philosophy or purpose?
  • What sorts of creative and collaborative study and learning spaces have been created in the library? Is there evidence that the institution has incorporated the library into its model of teaching and learning?
  • Are faculty and staff, in addition to students and librarians, present in the library?   Does the place of the library feel like a community learning space?
  • Can you get a good cup of coffee, and maybe a snack, while studying at the library?
  • Does the library feel like the hub of the intellectual campus community?  
  • How does the library deal with the challenge of providing a space for collaboration and study, a social learning space, with its history as a place where we went to find information contained in books?   How is the tension between people space and paper space mediated?  
  • What does the design of the library signal about the transition from information scarcity to information abundance?  How does the architecture and the layout of the library traverse the information landscape?
  • Is the library an enhanced and magical place?   

These questions are wonderful questions for anyone doing campus visits. I found myself contemplating the answers to these questions for my own library and finding areas to improve. I remember my undergraduate library being closer to a place I would want to spend an enormous amount of time as compared to my current law library.

As the author went on, "[h]ow can I explain how important the library will become in her higher ed journey? How can I best pass on my love for the academic library?"

These are the questions that every librarian asks themselves in terms of the students at their institution. We all want the students to come and use our space and ask us research questions and see the library as the heart of the academic institution. But with more ways to access information remotely and with coffee shops competing for their attention, students don't seem to be using the library like they used to.

These questions can be a good starting point to analyze the students' wants and needs for a good library experience.


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