Thursday, September 22, 2011

Transforming Library Spaces

The library where I work is old. Not geologically, and not even all that old in terms of years. It was built in 1963, on a campus where at least one building dates back to 1897. It's old in the sense that it's out of date. Every wall in the building, every last one, is a load-bearing wall. In this environment, change is difficult.

While fancier digs are hopefully on the way, we're not standing pat. I've worked with stakeholders across campus to modernize the facilities, adding computers, and making the most out of the spaces we've been given by noting how those spaces are used and then acting in ways that complement and accentuate their usage.

For example, library staff noticed both students and faculty congregating in a ground floor space that also houses our microfilm and bound back issues of journals, magazines, and other serials. At the same time, our School of Continuing Education was looking for more space to hold classes. It just so happened that these students and faculty were primarily Continuing Education, and so a partnership was born. We moved the microfilm against a wall, installed two whiteboards, and brought in some classroom furniture from elsewhere. A drop-down screen and a hanging projector are en route. This space, so popular that adjuncts have asked to use it for office hours, is now going to be a classroom, and a place where students, faculty, and other patrons can come together to accomplish things. What began with qualitative evidence on the part of library staff became a partnership with another campus organization. Together we fought for that space, and in particular that projector, when some on campus wanted to skimp on materials. I can see how proud Continuing Education is of that space. These students are commuters and there's not much that "theirs" on our campus.

Math labs are all the rage on many campuses, and ours is no exception. A math professor proposed one someone on campus. I proposed the library, thinking that anything that gets people in to the library is a win. The professor agreed, and in a space that previously held empty shelving, we now have five computers and two white boards, with weekly math sessions and daily tutoring available. Thanks, math department!

Finally, an extra blackboard and an empty wall became a match on the 2nd floor of the building. Students were quietly using the Religion/Religious Studies room (our stacks are broken into rooms, I told you it was an old building) to study, so an uninstalled blackboard found a home.

Lessons learned from these experiences:
  • Observe how space is being used, then act on it - the data we compiled for these spaces began as anecdotal evidence. Library staff members telling each other what they noticed in the building. Without open communication and a staff committed to constant improvement, this will be difficult.
  • Find allies where possible - this doesn't happen unless there are regular lines of communication between the library staff and the rest of campus. Keep your eyes and ears open, as well as at least part of your budget. Be part of the greater community, because you'll find something
  • Be the squeaky wheel - I've been pushy as a library director, and I'm sure there are lines that people think I've crossed. I understand that and I'm conscious of it, but at the same time, I want results. This isn't a science, and it's not even an art, but if you don't ask for something, you won't get it (lifehacker link). It helps that asking is easier if you have other campus organizations and institutions supporting the endeavor.

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