Gayton, Jeffrey T., "Academic Libraries: 'Social' or 'Communal?' The Nature and Future of Academic Libraries. The Journal of Academic Librarianship 34.1 (January 2008): 60-66.
Read via ScienceDirect.
This short article should give some food for thought to those zealous enthusiasts who want to turn academic libraries into social rec centers without a second thought. The key to the article is the author's distinction between communal and social spaces. While patrons do value the fact you can get a lot of resources online without coming to the library, Gayton suggests that they also value the library for providing a place where serious study, which is a communal activity. Unfortunately, in their rush to "modernize," or become more "relevant," planners are leaving the communal element behind. That's the line of thinking in a nutshell. For me, this makes sense. When I was out in the job market, one of the places I was interviewing at asked me a question along the lines of what were my thoughts on all the L2 trend. As I recall, I said something along the lines of you have to use the parts that meet your needs, and you have to give it some thought. You can't just implement stuff to make yourself look cool. The fellow who asked the question actually felt the same, concerned that it seemed a lot of the experts online seemed to simply be rushing instead of thinking before implementing. I would have liked to have this article handy back then, as it would have added to that discussion.
- "The problem is that the social model undermines something that is highly valued in academic libraries: the communal nature of quiet, serious study. Communal activity in academic libraries is a solitary activity: it is studious, contemplative, and quiet. Social activity is a group activity: it is sometimes studious, not always contemplative, and certainly not quiet" (60). This is always one of the questions I will ask in any library planning: where are the spaces for those people who actually want to study quietly. My concern is how often and how willing some places are willing to disregard the quiet space in pursuit of their social library (or commons).
- And the thing is, all this social rush might not be even adding the value the planners expect: "Rather, the problem is that these services and facilities are being promoted without sufficient regard to the ways in which social activities undermine communal activities. In addition, it is not clear that social activities add value to academic libraries, either in terms of the broader goal of supporting the research mission of universities or the narrower goal of increasing library use" (61). To support this, Gayton draws on the work of Sam Demas and Emily Ranseen and some others (see note below).
- "The trick for academic libraries is to create inviting communal spaces for study and research without falling into the trap of making the library a social gathering place" (62). Of course, to many L2 people, that is not a trap at all; it is the main goal. And the thing is that all this says is that there should be some balance.
- "In a small study of users of the Leavey Library at the University of California, Susan Gardner and Susanna Eng found that 80.6 percent of users visit the library because they wanted to study alone. They also report that study facilities received the second lowest service rating in the survey" (qtd. in 62). I actually read that article (see my note here).
- Now, for those who may be a bit too enthusiastic when it comes to social spaces and are about to protest: "There is nothing inherently wrong with bringing new functions and services, even social functions and services, into the academic library. But it is vital that the new be reconciled with the old; that new functions serve the needs of academic library users and that new services do not detract from existing, and valued ones" (64).
- And a reminder: "Intellectual conversation with library resources and conversation in the library are not necessarily the same thing" (64).
Note: Citations in format as provided in article.
Sam Demas, "From the Ashes of Alexandria: What's Happening in the College Library?," Library as Place: Rethinking Roles, Rethinking Space , Council on Library and Information Sources, Washington, DC, 2005.
Emily Ranseen, "The Library as Place: Changing Perspectives," Library Administration and Management 16 (2002, Fall).