Category Archives: Buildings

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.

Seekin’ An Answer ‘Bout The Commons

While preparing for this week’s class I was reviewing some old and new material for a discussion of the library as place. I think I used to understand the “commons” concept, but now I’m not so sure I do. On one hand you’ve got the information commons. It’s got computers, cool technology, fun furniture for collaboration, probably a cafe nearby, possibly a librarian or a technology consultant hanging around. Seems pretty straightforward. On the other hand you’ve got the learning commons. It’s got computers, cool technology, fun furniture for…wait a minute. I think they are the same place, but perhaps the learning factor is what makes a difference. Students are learning over at the learning commons while they are finding information. At the information commons students are just gathering information, but not necessarily learning while they do it.

To compound matters I recently came across a journal article describing the new learning commons at a large research university. They decided to call it the learning commons because students learn there, but there was no articulation of what they learn or who they learn it from. But we know they learn there because there are loads of computers, devices, collaborative furniture and…you know. Then I got the newsletter from another large research university with a big page one story about their new information commons. The two commons areas described seem to be virtually the same facility. Now I’m really confused.

I think you see my dilemma. I sort of feel like that person in the old Who song, The Seeker. One verse goes…

I asked Bobby Dylan
I asked The Beatles
I asked Timothy Leary
But he couldn’t help me either

So I’m seeking an answer. What’s the difference between a learning commons and an information commons? Here’s what I used to think the difference was. The information commons was primarily a computer center/lab in the library that brought a full-time information technology worker into the library to support all the computers – while librarians answered questions and helped users navigate databases. The learning commons on the other hand had grander visions. The big difference is in “co-located services”. The learning happens at the learning commons because multiple academic support services are located there; tutoring, the writing center, educational technology and others are invited to share space in the learning commons or they have scheduled hours there.

I do see there is going to be a program at ALA on this topic. It’s called “Is the Learning Commons Enough?—Asking the Better Questions” and it’s on Monday the 25th at 1:30 (wouldn’t you know I have a schedule conflict!). LAMA and RUSA are bringing together four experts who, I guess, will try to figure out the difference between the different commons – or they may have more in common then we know.

But it seems like these two have become interchangeable. So if you can set me straight with your interpretation of the difference between these two commons that would be most helpful. But if there is no clear cut difference perhaps we can all decide which term we like and stick with that one. Or maybe we should just drop it all together. “You want a computer, cool technology, fun furniture where you and your friends can drink lattes and work together – just go over there where you see all those computers – and make sure you learn while you’re there”. Yeah, that could work for me.