In a New York Times interview, the new CEO of the Borders bookstore chain deftly avoids focusing on the fact the chain is losing money rather faster than expected but mentions this interesting tidbit.
â€œOur customers on average spend a lot longer in a store than what Iâ€™ve been used to,â€ he said. But, he added, â€œthey like our stores; theyâ€™re staying there, but theyâ€™re not spending as much as they could.â€
Hey, come on over to the library!
Librarians, of course, have noticed there’s a social function that we fulfill – that pays off in ways we don’t have to measure in sales. Though B&N and Borders often get the credit for creating the hospitable book-lined social space, we’re merely rediscovering what libraries have meant to their public for years.
Rory Litwin included an address on this subject in the previous incarnation of Library Juice a few years ago – “The Library as Social Centre” by a fellow Minnesotan, Gratia Countryman.
Many of our libraries are now housed in beautiful buildings, in which case, the building as well as the books becomes a means of social influence. If there is need of a home for social intercourse and amusement, the library may legitimately attempt to furnish such a home within its walls . . . The whole building at all times should be managed in the broadest spirit of hospitality; the atmosphere should be as gracious, kindly and sympathetic as one’s own home. Then do away with all unnecessary restrictions, take down all the bars, and try to put face to face our friends the books and our friends the people. Introduce them cordially, then stand aside and let them make each other’s blessed acquaintance.
This certainly predates the big box bookstore – she delivered this speech at the Minnesota Library Association meeting of 1905!
According to a new study about the role the campus physical environment plays in students’ enrollment decision making, the quality of the academic library building is near the top of the list in what factors into a student’s decision. In an article titled “The Impact of Facilities on Recruitment and Retention of Students” that appeared in the March/April 2006 issue of Facilities Management, the academic library was second only to “facilities in major” when students were asked what buildings were extremely or very important in the selection decision process. The library was rated higher than classrooms, recreational facilities, and even the residence halls. But the survey results reported in this article also suggest that for most students an inadequate library building might not be a deal breaker. When students actually rejected an institution it was most frequently owing to inadequate residence halls. In terms of retention, the library is also important to keeping students satisfied once they are enrolled.
I don’t doubt that our academic library community has always known that being able to offer an academic library building with quality facilities for research, study, interaction, browsing and learning makes a significant difference in the lives of our students. For one thing, it can make all the difference in the world in whether or not the students actually use the library. A great facility, or even an adequate one, can attract students who might otherwise end up doing their research and writing in computer labs, dorm rooms or even off-campus cafes. Now we may actually have some useful research data to support our anecdotal evidence of the need for high quality library facilities. I hope that some of our colleagues will be able to use this new information to convince academic administrators that an investment in a great library facility is just as important – if not even more important – than those buildings with social or recreational amenities that are often thought to be the ones that encourage students to enroll.
I think most academic librarians will feel Scott McLemee’s pain when they read his latest essay about cell phone abusers. Is there a librarian among us who hasn’t been disturbed by the lack of respect that cell phone abusers show for their fellow library users – or had to take complaints from those who still believe the library is one place on campus that should be reserved for quiet study. Sure, all of our libraries have the standard noisy and quite zones – and we don’t want to play noise cop – but cell phones are going off all over the place. McLemee writes:
Wandering the stacks, they babble away in a blithe and full-throated matter -â€“ conversing, not with their imaginary friends (as did the occasional library-haunting weirdo of yesteryear) but rather with someone who is evidently named â€œDude,â€ and who might, for all one knows, be roaming elsewhere in the building: an audible menace to all serious thought and scholarly endeavor. This situation is intolerable. It must not continue.
His solution? Just shoot them. Bullets are nice, but even a taser would do. I’m sure a few of us have even fantasized about just strangling these folks when their ringtones start blaring away. But even McLemee knows we can’t let our cell phone rage lead us to uncivilized responses to uncivilized behavior. But he does give us some hope. After all, we’re not the first generation to deal with forms of public rudeness. How has society overcome past transgressions of this sort? Read the essay to learn more, and the next time a cell phone goes off it might just help you control yourself.
A new computer center at Temple is causing a splash, according to an article in the Chronicle by Scott Carlson. Though the majority of students using the center own their own computers, there still is interest in congregating in a place where they can work together and avoid the distractions of home (or the nuisance of carrying a laptop around all day). The center offers high-end technology as well as facilities for plugging a laptop into a display so that a group of students can work together – and a lounge with nearby food carts. Some students go there because the technology is better than their own. But what’s interesting is that for others the center has the appeal of the student-centered library.
Mr. O’Rourke [Temple’s VP for computer and information services] calls it a “modern-day library” and says he would have put the center in the library if there had been room. Students gather here in the spirit of library study, appreciating a quiet place to work around friends, and libraries have typically been the homes of these types of computer clusters. As it is, the TECH Center is across the street from the main library, and university officials fantasize about building an elevated walkway between the two.
Many libraries have found, with or without a physical bridge, that libraries are the place where books and computers – and people and knowledge can come together.
More mainstream press attention to libraries – this time in Madison’s Capital Times. The focus is on social spaces and the availability of food and coffee: “Libraries, once bastions of silence, are quickly becoming the academic equivalent of the student union.”
Included in the story, though, is the fact that funding isn’t keeping up with the increasing cost of materias and that circulation of books has dropped even as the number of students coming through the door has risen.
One number I’ve never seen included in these kinds of stories is the number of materials a university like UW loans through interlibrary loan. A quick check of ARL stats for Wisconsin shows that has increased signficiantly in the past ten years even though in-house circulation of books has dropped.