Academic Library = Student Center?

by Elizabeth on November 3, 2010 · 1 comment

in librarianship, libraries, random ranting

I wrote and published this post in September 2009 on my old library school student blog.  I still think it is relevant, so I’m sharing it with you today.
Not a day goes by where I don’t read (or hear) about how the academic library is outdated.  No matter how many coffee shops, group study rooms, and laptop computers you have available for check out, it’s still a library, and apparently that’s outdated.  That’s certainly how the president of Goucher College in Baltimore, MD saw it.
When the old library was due for renovation, he scratched that and set up plans to build a multi-million dollar student center, with a library in it.  The new library, now called The Athenaeum, so named for the ancient Greek central gathering point where people came for a variety of purposes, houses a restaurant, workout room, bathroom complete with shower, commuter lounge with a full kitchen, an art gallery, classrooms, a forum, and a library.  All classic library features including circulation and reference desks, open stacks, and quiet study areas are included; however, the president felt that students needed a student center more than they needed a serious separate library.

On one level, I find that this makes a lot of sense. From what I can gather, Goucher College is a small school with a large chunk of commuting students.  Commuting students often have trouble fitting in to a campus community and creating a more student-friendly space where they can hang out as well as study does make sense.  Goucher College is also very small and it is doubtful that much major research takes place there, lessening the need for a major library.

However, I feel like lumping a library in with a student center lessens the library’s importance.  Academic libraries have been undergoing major transformations over the last decade from traditional book warehouses to more technology-friendly “information centers”, but this is the first time I’ve ever heard of adding work-out equipment and a restaurant to a library.  It appears to me that the president of Goucher College does not appreciate nor understand what truly happens in an academic library. Yes, the library should be a central gathering place on campus for students, so it should have amenities to make spending large quantities of time there better, but it’s main focus should be academic not social.

Did Goucher College taking the concept of a comfortable library a little too far? Should the academic library and the student center be merged? And when does the library cease being a library and just become a mere room in the student center?

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Jess November 4, 2010 at 5:20 pm

This is a tough question. I think whether or not this works to the advantage of the library depends on the school. Sometimes, I think the library is not seen as central to the student experience, so having it in the same physical location as other student services makes sense.

I also think that "library research" gets a bit siloed (if that's a word) and seems rather remote to most students when they can get more information than they can handle from the open web. It's a challenge to show them how are materials and services fit into the world of information and insisting that the library be a separate place for academic work isn't really going to help with that. I suspect that most students do research just like they do everything else – while multitasking; talking on Facebook, reading the news, etc. So it can make sense to integrate the physical library space in a place where they can multitask.


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