Tuesday, December 16, 2014

All that you can't leave behind

In advance of upcoming renovations, MIT Libraries asked its users what library spaces should look like. The full list of notes from that session provides some really interesting insight into what academic library users want from their Libraries. The five-page document might not be entirely applicable to the work your library does, but it's well worth your time since it provides an enormous amount of insight into what your users might want your space to look like.

The tl;dr version of these notes comes from the summary blog posts. Generally, the feedback that MIT students gave is that:

  • Library spaces should support a variety of activities
  • The Library environment should be inviting and comfortable
  • Library spaces should support technology.
Cool. I agree with that. Libraries should be inviting and comfortable spaces that support a variety of activities, including technology support. Well done, MIT students!

In the full list of notes, the students offer a variety of suggestions on how to accomplish these three goals, mostly through a mix of noise-levels and seating types. But also through a mix of activities, some of which are not Traditional Library Activities. My favorite piece of feedback from the full list of notes is "Mix fun and studies to attract people to the Library."

What the students are asking for is a Third place. It's not a new concept--create a place for people to spend time that isn't their workplace or their home. Or, in the case of college students, a place that isn't a classroom/lab or dorm/apartment/sorority or fraternity house.

It seems like we're always trying to get students into our libraries. We build coffee shops and makerspaces and large, open collaborative spaces for students to work. We are present on social media and engage with our users there. We build relationships with faculty and do outreach in their classrooms. We are present (and active) in the communities we serve.

But I wonder how much of this engagement from users is about getting them to consider the library as a third place and how much of it is to get students to make use of the collections we pay a lot of money to acquire.

So how do we do it? How do we "mix fun and studies to attract people to the Library?"

I suspect that the answer lies in the balance between our space and our collections/services. I think we have to loosen our grip on the notion that a Library is for housing collections and, in doing so, really open ourselves to the idea that a Library might also be for creating spaces for users to play games, take naps, and work together to create and display art. And that, in doing so, we will bring people into our libraries who will never make use of our collections.

What is one thing you can do right now to make your library a more third place-like space to people who have never stepped foot in your library before? Do it. Today.

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