Friday, November 18, 2011

Library as a Social Hub: What about the Books?

I'm not sure how many will agree with this rant about where some of the university libraries (in this specific case, it's the one in New Castle) are headed; I find it difficult, for example, to even see his point about research skills being all about negotiating through musty / dusty old shelves. But there are some good bits:

The place, when busy, now often feels like a cross between an airport, Disney World, a social services drop-in centre and a primary school. Management no longer sees it as a centre of learning, a place set apart to provide the student with resources for study and research, but rather as a transient, exploitable ‘space’, an extension of the full-on uni experience, with added books, to be moulded to whatever ‘lifestyle’ the management thinks students find attractive or will demand. But the worst was yet to come.

This summer, management started removing books. The reasoning was explained in a loop heralding ‘Phase 1 of the great transformation’ that played endlessly on a TV at the library exit: ‘Welcome back to your refurbished Robinson Library. You asked, we listened... We have moved loads of shelving to make room for more study spaces. We’ve shifted crate-loads of the less-used stock to provide more light, more room and a more comfortable space to study in. And created a greater variety of study areas. Choose the one that best suits your work-style!’ And the final picture — empty chairs with the words ‘Now that Phase 1 is all done, we are just waiting for you to fill the empty spaces!’ Phase 2, it promises for 2012, will continue this noble mission.


  1. Ankur Kulkarni said...

    Abi, this is not entirely incorrect. I have had a complaint about some new libraries in my university too. An ideal library, IMO, must show a certain glut for books, books and more books. No space ought to be enough to stock all knowledge that it would like to house.

    Unfortunately, most new libraries don't seem to be built that way. They are built like more like 5-star hotel lounges with stylish lighting and seating places and generally a lot of open space. I guess it is part of the overall attempt to make a "attending a university" more of a lifestyle experience rather than educational one.

  2. Abi said...

    @Ankur: Like the author says, the trend towards "library as a social hub" has many driving forces -- it's not clear how many of them can be controlled, slowed down or even reversed. I actually agree with the author on the ludicrousness of getting rid of books to create and expand the 'social space' -- hence the excerpt in the blog post. [Where I had a problem was with his assertion about research skills and racing along shelf lanes.]