Libraries are often centerpieces of college campuses. But schools are now rethinking how those libraries can better serve today’s students.
Scott Carlson looked into libraries of the future for a Chronicle of Higher Education report, and found that libraries are still thriving despite some predicting their demise because of the internet. Still, they’ve had to adapt dramatically to stay relevant and useful for students and other patrons.
Carlson spoke with Texas Standard about his findings. Below are some highlights.
Libraries provide a unique public experience
Libraries are far from obsolete, but their value these days is, in some ways, based more on the experience of going to a library than the materials inside of it. Carlson says libraries have become the rare gathering place where people can coexist together, in quiet, without having to buy something.
“Be in public, but be alone in public, is one way of putting it. It’s a third space, that is, it’s not work, it’s not home. … It’s a place that’s outside in society,” Carlson said.
The library is the “heart” of a college campus
Libraries are often centrally located on a campus, like a “front porch” where students gather and learn. And compared to local public libraries, college libraries often have extensive and special collections that make them valuable resources, and “a temple of learning,” for students.
Budgets haven’t changed much, but services have
Carlson says college library budgets are “flat,” but they have also had to offer more services to stay relevant with so much information already available to student online. Some of those services include helping faculty with their courses, putting courses online and offering new kinds of spaces for virtual reality, seed libraries and more.
The librarian is the heart of the library, not the books
As information and information mediums change, librarians are the ones who help patrons makes sense of the information.
“If materials are going online, there’s just new spaces and new opportunities that are out there,” Carlson said. “And libraries, I think, are sort of trying to adapt to where students are going and where learning is going.”
Local libraries need to reach new patrons, and foster that relationship
Local library collections used to mainly reflect dominant culture and “traditional scholarship.” But Carlson says now, in order to survive, they must feature materials that are more useful and relevant to a wide variety of patrons.
“We are seeing situations where libraries are using their special collections in new and different ways that try to bring in populations that have not patronized the library before,” he said.
Carlson also says keeping the community engaged with their libraries is important to stop the spread of misinformation. That’s because he says librarians have traditionally been important gatekeepers for “valid” information.
Library science has a diversity problem
The stereotype of the older, white, female librarian still holds true, and Carlson says the lack of diversity matters because it’s libraries who determine the materials on the shelves.
“If you have people from one background or a limited set of backgrounds, you’re not really reaching the people and the patrons that you need to reach,” he said.