Monday, June 29, 2009

Article Note: On evolving services at academic libraries

Citation for the article:

Morris, Jim, "The New Academic Library and Student Services." Journal of Access Services 5.1/2 (2007): 31-45.

Read via Interlibrary Loan.

While the article is not perfect, and at times it seems like the library at Lake City CC has lost control rather than "just letting go," the article does present some pretty good ideas for outreach as well as validate some of the work that I do already. Personally, to get it out of the way, I am not convinced about the liberal permissive food policy they have. Here spills are an issue, and they usually happen on a late night when there is no one to replace a keyboard that had who knows what spilled, thus rendering a computer someone could be using inoperative. So, the thirty dollar keyboard's small price, as the author puts it (33), is not really that small of a price. In our case then, the food stays out of the lab, and all drinks with a lid on it. I think the overall point is you have to know your environment, then do what works. But having said that, yes, taking some risks overall will probably be for the better.

As for the idea of "just letting go," while it may sound very cool and zen, I think we need to be careful with that. If it means letting go of what libraries traditionally do in favor of just being cool and hip, then I do not think this is the way to go. Replacing entertainment for the educational element is not an improvement. And we are still talking about an academic library, with a mission to serve the needs of the campus. What I would suggest is that the entertainment supplement the educational mission as well as meet the campus students' recreational needs. Sure, have your talks and music events, but you better also have books and materials related to those events. If you show a film, have experts come in to discuss and put it in context. That is what we have done here, and something we hope to continue. For instance, turnout at our Darwin Day event was very good, drawing people from the campus as well as the community at large. A frequent comment we got was "you need to do more things like this." So we know it can work. You just need to keep some balance, a concept I think is often missing in a lot of libraries that simply try to imitate the big box bookstores and the arcades of old.

Some other good ideas I am making a note about:

  • "However, we have come to understand that the social element of the library, even the academic library, cannot be ignored" (33). You won't get disagreement from me in that regard. While I may not agree with some of the article's more liberal (read permissive) ideas, there is plenty here to provoke some discussions and dialogues. You can't ignore the social element. Best is to address it head on. Try some things out; feel free to experiment, learn from the experience what works for you locally, then adjust accordingly.
  • A "growing DVD collection of foreign and independent films" (33). That is just a wish for me. Given our funding (and some campus attitudes I would rather not address), it may take a while to build a growing collection. But we are taking some baby steps in that direction and with me advocating. We'll see.
  • As for magazines in the library for students to browse, you have to have the actual magazines. With the ever growing reliance on online databases, the attitude in many places, including my place of work, has been to cut back on print drastically. Our attitude here is, if it is on a database, we do not need the print. Not exactly something I agree with, but it is the reality I face. It is something I do miss from my former MPOW where we did have a decent collection of popular magazines in print, which students did browse and read.
  • Use of original art on the library walls.
  • The key is support from the powers that be. "Such events require broad institutional support, from the President who may have to field complaints about material read at the open microphone, to the art instructors who have their students' work on display, to the music instructor who brings his jazz band, to the liberal arts faculty members who come and support the event and who grant students extra credit for participation" (34). You need a library director who will go to bat for you, so to speak as well. And you need library staff who will lead by example, participating or at the very least being present at library events as well.
  • "Regarding reference books, my staff members have authority to let them go out" (35). We do this in a limited way for faculty. I think it may be time to revisit that policy to make reference items easier to circulate. Another thing I have been doing is when some items you would usually place in reference arrive, I ask that they be cataloged to be placed in circulating collection instead. Let the item go free, so to speak.
  • And I love their Cafe Politico concept, "an open discussion group that brings together students, staff, faculty, and the community to discuss current topics of political and social relevance. . . our topics have included same sex marriage, the world response to the east Asian Tsunami and to Hurricane Katrina, Civil Liberties and the Patriot Act, and the war in Iraq and world terrorism" (35). By the author's admission, some discussions can get heated, but the library still sponsors the event. Given our community make-up here, it may take some work to get something like this off the ground, but I do like the idea. It is one I would like to explore further.
  • Music events. My boss was asking about some possible Jazz event in April, since it is Jazz Appreciation Month. I don't know if I can pull it off in April, with all the other stuff already going on that month (National Poetry Month, National Library Week for instance), but who is to say we can't have a music event any other time of the year?

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