Every now and then we see a good story in the mainstream media about the positive contributions libraries make to their communities. Not surprisingly, those stories tend to feature public libraries. Occasionally the subject of the article is an academic library. This past Sunday the Star Tribune in Minneapolis featured an article about the innovations at the University of Minnesota’s Walter Library designed to lure students to the library. As with most articles of this type the student quotes reflect their attraction to Internet search engines, but some acknowledge that the library provides invaluable and time-saving research assistance – and good coffee. After reading the article and exploring the web site at the University of Minnesota Library, I find their balanced approach to reaching out to students provides a good model. Recognizing students’ preference for search systems that provide a Google experience, they’ve developed the “Undergraduate Virtual Library”. It looks to be a federated search system that mimics the features of a simple search engine, but with a slightly busier interface. But they also promote a variety of user education programs to help students improve library research skills. It demonstrates that while it is important to acknowledge changing student behaviors by offering new and different approaches to research, academic librarians can offer balance by continuing to support the essential values of user education.
I have to say I am somewhat confused by this press release issued by the University of Calgary. Perhaps I’m just not thinking broadly enough. The University announced a plan to build the $113-million Campus Calgary Digital Library. Now that’s clearly enough money to build a fine facility, but isn’t a digital library by its very definition something that only exists in electronic format. In fact, they are building a new facility. It will offer 3,500 student spaces, loads of computers, and of course, access to digital resources. Does this make sense? Can a physical library building be named the “digital library”? Is this the start of a trend? And just what sort of message are they trying to send to users? That their building is so advanced that it’s not physical, but digital. Clearly there is a digital library somewhere at the University of Calgary. Referring to the library’s electronic holdings as the “digital library” seems more commonplace. But I think this is the first time I’ve heard of an actual, physical library building that will be called the digital library. Am I missing something here? I hope someone else can clear up the confusion for me. Maybe I am just a luddite after all.
Scott Carlson has a good article (subscription required) in the Chronicleâ€™s special section on libraries in which he touches on the major issues and trends in the design and building of new academic libraries. Here at TCNJ, our library followed the alluded to formula of natural light + cherry wood + comfy chairs + internet connections = 200% gate increase. Why not just build a big study hall? Why not just build a big computer lab? It turns out the library is a complex place that cannot be reduced to any one of its amenties or services. When we first moved into our new building, some of our materials, archives in particular, took a little longer to get out of the moving boxes. What are the chances someone would ask for an item from archives in the first weeks? But ask they did. And they asked for books. And bound periodicals. And microfilm even. (Microfilm!) As well as for computers with word, for printers, and for librarians they knew by name. Could it be that the romantic notion of the library as the heart of campus is not all sentiment and symbolism, and that there really is something to this idea of library as place?