Category Archives: Buildings

Library As Place – For Air Conditioning Books

Here’s an interesting vision for the future of academic libraries from Adrian Sannier, Chief Technology Officer at Arizona State University. Sannier was the keynote speaker at the Campus Technology 2008 conference, and you can watch the video of his presentation, “A New American University for Next-Gen Learners” at the Campus Technology website. In his talk Sannier discusses strategies for putting in place groundbreaking plans that will serve the next generation of students. But in his vision, next-gens apparently don’t need physical libraries and the books they offer. He says:

If you were starting an educational institution right now would you build a giant air-conditioned building to house books? Is that what you would do? That’s what you did if you founded a university in the previous century. You made sure you could have as many books as you could possibly have. In fact that’s how you measure universities one to the next. How many books you got? If you were starting one today, how many books would you have? I know what I would do. I’d have none. I’d have zero. Well that would change my cost picture relevant to you and that would make my university’s knowledge so much more accessible to you both when you’re there and when you weren’t there. That kind of reinvention is what we’re talking about.

Later in the talk when Sannier is discussing his six ways to transform higher education he provides further advice on how to transform the academic library:

Here’s my favorite one. Burn down the library. C’mon, all the books in the world are already digitized. Burn the thing down. Change it into a gathering place, a digital commons. Stop air conditioning the books. Enough already. None of us has the Alexandria Library. Michigan, Stanford, Oxford, Indiana. Those guys have digitized their collections. What have you got that they haven’t got? Why are you buying a new book? Buy digitial. Enough. And let’s spend some more time making those things [Note: not sure if he means library buildings or collections] level, flat, transparent, so a single search turns up everything…Let’s just start releasing the stats…How many people are using the indicies we’re all paying so much for…

Keep listening and you’ll hear Sannier attack the traditional scholarly publishing system next. He’s with the librarians on that issue. Now, do I think Sannier really believes what he’s saying? Do I really think he advocates universities with no books and no library building? Yes, to an extent I think he’s really serious – not the part about burning down the library. If you can get past the objectionable hyperbole about the library Sannier has some messages we need to hear. As hard as it may be to believe that the top IT professional at a major research university could be so completely and utterly misinformed about the state of digitized libraries, I think Sannier really believes what he’s saying about book digitization. He also seems to have a poor understanding of how higher education works if he really believes that all 4000 U.S. colleges and universities have curriculums that are so alike that no student or faculty member will ever need any book other than the ones that Michigan and Stanford have digitized (and let’s not even get into his lack of knowledge about how Google Book Search really works or that academic libraries share their resources at cost-saving levels that would shame the gross inefficiencies of most campus IT departments).

But if I can put aside his anti-library rant for a moment, no doubt delivered to be intentionally controversial, I think he makes some good points. Academic libraries, as operated today, are increasingly unsustainable. None of us has the room or budget to meet all the just in case needs of our user community, and trying to get there is an exercise in futility. And he’s dead on when he says that we use the size of our book collections to judge who has the best library; in the age of outcomes assessment those traditional measures seem to grow more pointless. I’m actually glad that Sannier is sharing his views in public forums with his IT colleagues because it should serve as a warning to all academic librarians that the folks who control the networks and the technology may very well have it in for us. If academic libraries are being dismissed as one big book air conditioner then we better start doing some of our own transforming to make sure our operations are lean yet productive, and that we have the data to prove to the top administrators that our libraries deliver the best service for the tuition dollar. It must be shown that academic libraries directly contribute to students achieving learning outcomes and persistence to graduation.

But rather than make up your mind about Sannier and his radical vision for academic libraries based on my post, take some time and watch the video. There is no denying that he’s a dynamic speaker who will command your attention – and get you thinking about the future of higher education. Heck, you’ll probably still be in “WTF – did he really just say that” mode when he tells the audience to burn down the libraries – even after you heard it here.

And the Back of the Envelope, Please . . .

The winners of the Chronicle’s “back of the envelope” contest to design the Bush library are in. Some of the submissions were imaginative, others were satirical or angry. Some played off the resonances between the idea of a library and the Bush administration. One went beyond the confines of the envelope and attached a “signing statement.”

One of our librarians taught a January term course on The Library as Place; it was fascinating to find out what students (some of whom were not heavy library users) thought a library should look like. They tended toward the traditional, with an affinity for dark woodwork, study tables with lamps, and lots of books.

If you had a design contest for your library, what would your students submit? Your faculty? Would they reflect frustrations or dreams? It might be interesting to find out.

Designs on the Presidency

Do you have an eye for design? Do you at least have a pencil and a used envelope? The Chronicle is running a contest and wants your ideas for the Bush Presidential Library. Send in your literally back-of-the-envelope sketches. Certain themes have already been overdone, but there’s plenty of room for more.

Let’s just say that Mr. Bush should be less worried about the test scores of America’s children and more concerned about their imagination. How are we going to compete with China and India if our people can’t think outside the box (or outside the outhouse)? . . .

One more thing: We’ve heard that some architects and architecture firms are reluctant to send in designs. They don’t want their libraries to run alongside crude pictures of toilets, we’ve heard, and they don’t want to be associated with a George W. Bush Library, even a make-believe one.

We have some responses to this: Regarding your peers in the contest, we have made clear that we’ll winnow the entries; the outhouse designs probably won’t make the cut.

Regarding the PR repercussions of designing a library for a not-very-popular Bush, just be courageous. (Your entry will be anonymous during the reader-voting process, anyway.) Great architects have been known to be brave, proud, and even pugnacious, not intimidated by even the most daunting projects. Mustering courage for an imaginary building can’t be that hard.

Sharpen those pencils. Fire up your imaginations. The deadline for entries is February 1st.

The Academic Library Is Certainly No Place For Fun

Are there days at your academic library when it appears that a war is going to erupt between the students who just want solitude and quiet and those who want to do…well, whatever they feel like doing? And what they feel like doing just might be socializing (probably loudly), playing cards, using computers to watch a soccer match or anything else that disrupts the work of those who seek peace and quiet. And of course, since the students are totally incapable of policing this themselves and cooperating to create a workable environment for both groups, guess who gets to be the referee to help make sure everyone plays nice. Are you having fun yet? This is by no means a new issue, but with the proliferation of cell phones and multimedia digital entertainment – along with a growing societal trend toward a public lack of sensitivity to and respect for others’ needs for privacy and quiet – the severity the issue has rapidly escalated.

In addition to this student penned article (the inspiration for this post’s title), the quiet versus noise battle brews daily in my own library. In my new position I’ve had to calm down a number of students who were ready to go ballistic over the noise level where they were attempting to study. What I hear is the same tone as the article. “Don’t students know that the library is a place for quiet and study. It’s the only place on campus we can find that”. You see our dilemma. We need to satisfy everyone! One’s ability to do that depends, to a large degree I think, on his or her library facility. Abundant study rooms may allow those seeking isolation to find it, or they may be the perfect place to send that talkative group watching a DVD on a public PC. Well laid out areas for socialization can be kept at a distance from those designated for quiet study. Food and beverage consumption, which often generates conversational noise, is kept in check in designated areas. The last thing we want is for librarians to be perceived as noise cops. But I don’t doubt that some of our aggrieved patrons would like nothing better than to see little old Mr. Librarian pull out a big baseball bat to deal out some corporal punishment to a bunch of chatterbox undergrads.

There are no easy answers on this particular problem, so it just may be a matter of trying different strategies and sharing them (I’ve seen at least one article on dealing with cell phone noise) within the profession. One can only hope that library users will soon recognize the importance of refraining from loud conversation while others attempt to study (or do other kinds of work) or that both camps will gain the ability to self-police these noisy situations – or at least learn how to compromise. So what’s happening at your library?

A Top Twenty Academic Library List From The Same Folks Who Rate Party Schools

Though it is probably not as eagerly sought after by prospective (and even active) college students as their top party schools list, the folks at Princeton Review may have noticed this and decided that students would also want to know more about the best libraries. You can get to the list via a post at LISNews (they supply an account so you don’t have to register – thanks LISNews) if you’d like to see which libraries made the top twenty. Apparently there is but a single criterion for making the list. The Princeton Review makes it clear at the top of the list that the rankings are based “on students’ assessment of library facilities”. I haven’t visited nearly all of these libraries, but I could understand why Valparaiso – which I have visited – would make the list if it is based on how much students like the library building.

Tp be sure, any of the libraries on this list is an example of an academic library that is doing good work and is, in at least some specific area(s) (collection, facility, service quality, etc.) a standout. To be sure, there are many others that are equally good and would deserve to be in the top twenty. I suppose that is the primary reason why a list like this is bound to irk many academic librarians. But I thought I’d check to see if The Princeton Review’s methodology for rating academic libraries would actually identify truly excellent academic libraries – according to the real experts – academic librarians. So I visited ACRL’s web page that lists all the winners, present and past, of the Excellence in Libraries Award. It was first awarded in 2000. Of the Princeton Review’s top twenty, four academic libraries have also won the ACRL award. They are Cornell, Loyola University New Orleans, Mount Holyoke College and University of Virginia. So four out of twenty isn’t great, but I have to admit that I didn’t think there would be any matches between the two lists.

Perhaps next year The Princeton Review list will have a little footnote that provides the link to the ACRL Award page – just to give their readers another perspective on which schools have the best libraries. Of course, the students may be too busy checking out the top party schools to take much notice. And in case you are wondering, West Virginia University, this year’s top party school, also takes the number five spot on the best libraries list. They must have some awesome parties at that library.