October 30, 2007

Library as refuge

Two posts really resonated with me today. First from ACRLog, a post by Steven Bell, 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.

With a line that made me laugh out loud:
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.

Ok, so my own Schwarzeneggeresque fantasies are probably a little less extreme (and probably include a hockey stick rather than a baseball bat), but I certainly sympathise. As I've written before, I place a high value on our mission to give students what they can't find anywhere else on campus -- quiet. My library is quite a small space, mostly all on one floor, so it can be a challenge to keep noise levels to a dull roar. And finding the right balance between letting people work together at the computers and keeping it low enough so that noise doesn't overwhelm other parts of the library is tough. But I think that students generally appreciate our efforts and 99% of the ones who we ask to lower their voices are very understanding.

Oddly, just today I had a strange occurance while I was on the desk: 3 cell phone pacers at once, all wandering the open areas of the library, speaking loudly and a bit oblivuously. All were more than happy to wander away from the quieter parts of the library. What is it about cell phones that cause us to pace back and forth while we talk in a louder than normal voice?

The other article is via Lisnews, Are Computers in Libraries on the Wane? My first response is, "Are you kidding? We could put in 5 times as many and still practically have lineups!" but I think that there are a few good points:
“I thought that since students are online so much that they always wanted to be near a computer,” one of the librarians said. “But it turns out that part of the reason they’re coming to the library is to unplug, is to actually have some time where they can concentrate on their work. So we wanted to make sure we had lots of big spaces, where they can study, and can be quiet, and can concentrate.”

The librarians also said students favored big tables, lots of natural light, and quiet study spaces.

Exactly. If someone gave me a few million dollars and the rest of my building, what would I do? First of all, wired and wireless access everywhere, lots of natural light (which we luckily already have). Group study rooms would be a priority. But also more informal, noisy collaborative space around the computer workstation pods and other tables. In other areas I would want to have quieter spaces where the distaction level is low but not zero; this space would have a variety of remixable soft seating and tables. Finally, a certain number of silent study areas where the only sound you should here is the quiet click of keyboards; this space would probably only have carels and bigger, heavier soft seating. Building function space, common areas, reference programs and instructional spaces in such a facility would be fun and challenging. Ah, to dream.


practical katie said...

That was certainly what we found with our undergraduates - there is no single kind of space that satisfies everyone. Even the same student needs different kinds of space (quite, noisy, collaborative) depending on what kind of work they're doing.

John Dupuis said...

Thanks, pk. I will officially start calling myself practical john ;-)

Anonymous said...

Have you seen how the Ninja librarian on YouTube deals with patrons on cellphones? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pyLTqBARFt8

John Dupuis said...

Yes, anon, I have seen it and think it's hilarious. There've been times...