Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Beautiful University Libraries and Thinking about Space

So, this lovely series of photos from stumbleupon shows a lot of university library reading rooms, primarily from old, historic libraries such as reading rooms at Oxford, UK, or in historic American universities such as Harvard, or UC Berkeley.

I'm struck by how few people there are in these photographs.  I understand that the photographer was probably more focused on the beauty of the spaces, but it seems to me that the true beauty of a library is in what the space provides in terms of the potential for people to think and work. So, yes, some of these lovely spaces do that.  But we can't see that in action in these spaces.

We are getting new spaces in Atkins, and I'm curious to see how they facilitate student work on campus, and what kind of work ends up being done.  The new north entrance to Atkins will be more than just a new doorway, there will be a large group study/conference room, and open spaces designed for collaborative work as well.

We've got spaces on the ground floor that have experimental furniture in them, and it's still unclear if students are using the furniture (like this mediascape table) in the way it's intended.

There are also spaces on the 1st and 2nd floors in particular that are still relatively unconfigured--we haven't really decided what we want to put in there long-term, so students are arranging those spaces themselves.  I am going to be starting the New Year trying to investigate what students want out of these open spaces--what kinds of things are they trying to do, what kinds of things are they successful in doing, and what informs that success?

Finals are nearly over--where are you doing your best work in the Library?  What do you wish these new spaces to do for you?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Information Literacy and deciding what is "good"

This article in the Chronicle of Higher Education is the latest discussion of the woeful information literacy skills of contemporary undergraduates (a topic about which I have blogged already).  No fewer than six of my friends and colleagues sent me the link to this article, because it's also an excellent presentation of the ERIAL library ethnography project.  My colleague Andrew Asher was one of the anthropologists participating in this large-scale study, which aimed to ground what we know about students and their interactions with libraries and library resources in their actual behavior, through open-ended interviews, participant observation, and other research instruments like photo diaries (all methods I engage in as a part of the Atkins Ethnography Project here at UNC Charlotte).

Particularly highlighted in the Chronicle's coverage of the ERIAL project (and its upcoming publications via ALA) is the surprise that so-called "digital natives" could be so terribly unskilled at evaluating information.  I don't think we need to be surprised by students capable of googling not being aware of how to pick which source to use, any more than we would be surprised by children kept away from books all of their lives being unable to figure out what to do with all of those large blocks-full-of-paper things in the library.  Digital literacy has never been the same as information literacy, and all of the digital toys in the world will not render our students (or anyone else's students, for that matter) capable of distinguishing a reliable source from an unreliable source.

Persistent, consistent instruction in information literacy is what will give our students that skill set.  And it cannot begin at university--this skill should be taught and exercised throughout K-12 education (and beyond).  The testing culture of our current educational system makes critical thinking far less valued than retention and regurgitation of facts, and we are paying for that emphasis with the lack of preparation we see in our undergraduates.  The idea that an undergraduate degree is "to get a job," rather than a basis for becoming a thinking and contributing (not just in economic terms) member of society, also gets in the way of educators advocating for critical thinking in the classrooms.  Some students get frustrated by it (being asked to think critically about class content, society, life in general) because they are not necessarily used to being asked to do it, and professors are frustrated by students' frustration--why did they come to college if not to think?

I am collaborating on a project now that involves interviewing and observing high school seniors and college freshman as they look for information, academic and otherwise.  My research partners and I are beginning to analyze the interview data now, and among the many striking things is the standard by which students judge information to be "reliable:"  repetition.  Several students say things like, "if I find it more than once on the web, I know that it's reliable information."  Why do they think this?  Where are they getting this standard of reliability?  Is it possible that they're not being told any other standards?  Or are they simply assuming that the most popular Google link is popular for a fact-based reason?

I think about how students evaluate information when I see their interest in the library website providing reviews of books, articles, and other materials that they can access in our collections.  They want an service whereby they can see what previous users of the materials have said about the materials, so that the students can make an informed decision about the utility of the materials for their purposes.  If you think about the Amazon-style reviews, (see, for instance, the reviews of this Economics textbook), you see that the reviewers writing the "most useful" reviews are explicit about what they wanted out of the book, how the book met their needs (or didn't), and allow the reader of the reviews to evaluate the extent to which the reviewer's standards are the reader's own.  Something is given stars based on whether or not it met a particular user's needs, therefore context is necessary in a review, for other users to be able to effectively evaluate the potential of an item.

What is "good," therefore, is a subjective, shifting thing.  Students who are writing five-page essays might review books as "too long" for what they need to do, and articles as "just the thing."  Graduate students working on dissertations might review books according to their theoretical perspectives.  Reviews on a library web site might give students the ability to get in virtual form the kind of feedback that they already ask their peers for in person (or on facebook, via text, or via emails) about the materials they need for papers, exams, and other coursework.

Students already evaluate information in non-academic settings.  They read (and act on) reviews of movies, cars, live music shows, and restaurants.  They take into account who is doing the reviewing, and whether that reviewer's perspective is relevant and informed (or not).  It is not that they are utterly incapable of critical thinking.  It is that they are not doing it in academic settings.  They have not been trained to do it.  Neither have they been told by our educational institutions (writ large) that critical thinking is terribly important.

Beefing up information literacy programs at the university level, and at K-12, would be an important first step towards remedying the problem.  But the problem has other deep structural reasons for its existence, and those problems require fixes that come from outside of the educational system.

Monday, August 1, 2011

History's Detectives and the Way the World Searches

I haven't watched History's Detectives (on PBS),  in a while, so when I caught up on an episode the other night, I was struck by something I hadn't really noticed before.  For those of you who've not watched it (because you are not a history/anthropology geek like myself), History's Detectives is a sort of spin-off of Antiques Roadshow.    But instead of people bringing their stuff to the Roadshow for experts to tell them about it, the experts  come to people's houses to inspect the item, and take it away with them for a thorough investigation as to its history and meaning.

It's fun, if you like that sort of thing (which clearly, I do).  This time around, I particularly noticed how the beginning of the process of investigation was represented.  After taking the object away with them to their study/office, the expert sits down with their laptop, and immediately fires up Google.  When Wes Cowan was beginning his investigation of a WWII propaganda leaflet, he typed almost those precise words into the Google search box, and worked his way through the links that came up.  He actually said for the benefit of the camera, "I don't know anything about this," before he started Googling.

It looked just like what any student does when they are asked to write a paper about a given topic.  Or what a faculty member does when they want to have a general sense of what's being written about a topic before they teach a class on it, or write an article about it.

Here's what marked Mr. Cowan as an expert:  he didn't stop with the Google search.  He's not on this show to do televised Google searches.  He moved away from the general overview that Google searching could give him, and started reaching out to professional contacts, snowballing his sources until he'd found the answers his client was looking for.   He moved from secondary sources to primary source documents in the process, spoke to people who knew the artist who produced that particular pamphlet, and was capable at the end of all of that work of crafting a finely detailed story of the artifact in question.

Students writing papers have different goals, and how far they go beyond the Google search (or, a browse-type search on an academic library web page) is very much up to the kind of assignment.  If they are writing a five page essay, the post-Google process will look different from that which goes into a 10 or 20 page paper. There is no one perfect search, because all searches happen in a given context.  What may be sufficient for one assignment is woefully inadequate for another (and will be reflected in one's grade for that assignment!).

What does that mean for academic libraries, and those who work with students on their assignments?  It's more important than ever to get a grounded sense of why students are looking for information, not just the fact that they need information on "X."  The reference interview for a 5-page paper has compelling reasons to look different from one for the 10 page paper.

Demonstrating that we know the difference, and translating it into practice in the form of a reference interview gives us more credibility, and makes it more likely that students will come to us for help in the future.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Instruction at Point of Need

I get the impression that, within academia, there is a constant, low-level (and sometimes not-so-low-level) anxiety about whether or not students are learning what they need to about information, information literacy, and how to effectively use the information that they do find.    This essay is an example of some of the strategies academic libraries and librarians engage in to attempt to inform students in effective ways about their information possibilities. 

Instruction at the point of need is not a concept that is unique to academic libraries.  Faculty struggle with when is the best time to give students information about coursework, paper assignments, and exams.  Many go over their syllabi at the beginning of the semester, but then encounter students throughout the semester who were not in class that day, who got the syllabus but didn't read it, or who have the syllabus but forgot what it said after they read it.  Having syllabi on course management systems such as Moodle or Blackboard Vista can help with this some, because you are not relying on student access to a paper copy, but can expect that students who need the information can go find it online.

Design specialists think about instruction at the point of need in all sorts of contexts.  The website of Edward Tufte contains an entire message board discussing examples of instruction, and whether or not those examples are effective (and why they might or might not be).  Signs that assist with urban wayfinding, package instructions, safety cautions are all examples of things that need clear and obvious design elements to catch attention as well as convey information.

People who need to find their way around a city, who need to open a newly purchased item, or who need to know how to be safe when their airplane is crashing are also highly motivated to receive the information contained in those instructions.  And that is where it can all get hung up in the academic context:  faculty and other instructors (including librarians) traditionally gave instruction when it worked for their own schedule, or for when they thought students *should* have the information (e.g., at the beginning of the semester).  That time is not necessarily when students are most receptive to that information.  Finding the intersection of student need and student receptivity is a tricky prospect, and requires flexibilty.

For instance, there are faculty members who have online office hours the night before homework assignments are due, because that is when students both need and are willing to listen to the relevant information.  Students who are writing papers often do so in the week (or day) before the assignment is due--that is when they are most receptive to information about how to structure their paper, how to find information to use in the body of their paper, how to configure their bibliography.  Short of reference librarians giving middle-of-the-night library instruction, how can we get that information into the hands of students when they both need it and are listening to what we have to say?

This is something we are actively thinking about in Atkins, and there are already a few possible solutions that we are working towards.  I'd be interested in hearing what you think are really effective ways of reaching people with the information they need to have to be successful.  What has worked for you?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Now on Mobile Devices

I'm participating in Blogspot's beta testing of the mobile interface of their site.  So, if you're not already reading this on your phone (ha), try it out here:

New York Public Library and Thinking about Workspaces

I had the great good fortune to spend a few days in New York City this past week, and managed to stop in to the NY Public Library for a little while. 

My kids told me it felt like a museum, but to me it feels like a cathedral dedicated to books.  All that marble, all of that art, all of that lovely architecture, surrounding a collection and a space for accessing that collection.

And not just the collection, but also the internet (and the informative places therein)--so, it's a cathedral to information, really.  A place for you to find what you need, and also to get help if you need it.  Heady stuff for academics.  And for non-academics who love information. ("Information:  it's not just for books anymore.")

Photos are only permitted in the Catalog section of the Reading Room.   The other half of the Reading Room looks very similar, except there are not desktop/catalog computers in that space.  People in that part of the reading room were working on laptops if they were working on computers.

The Catalog Reading Room looks like this:

It is a beautifully appointed room, with brass lamps at strategic places at the long wooden tables, so that when the natural light that streams through the windows is unavailable, people can still work. 

The lamps also delineate the tables as workspaces for multiple people.  
There were people working singly, but also in pairs:

  The walls are lined not just with marble, but also with books.  The further back you go into the room from the information desk, the less desktop computers/internet terminals there are.  People seemed fairly evenly distributed throughout the space until I got to this point:

The sign says this: 

I was particularly struck by the lack of people at these tables.  I wondered if it was because this was the catalog room, and people needed to be closer to the catalog computers.  But then I went into the other half of the Reading Room, and found the same situation:  a sparsely populated laptop free zone.

Further investigation in the building, not far away, revealed this:
This room is not as big as the Reading Room, but it's pretty nice, for a room that's not the Heart of the NYC Public Library. 

But I really can't figure out the logic of separating out people who work on laptops from the rest of the people who are working in the Reading Room.  It feels archaic, like "no click zones" are now.  I didn't have time to interview anyone who worked at the library about it, so they may well have their reasons, but it felt like an unnecessary segregation to me.

Of course, the NYC Public Library has lots of space, and clearly can provide lovely space that is separate for its laptop users (a luxury we, and many other public university libraries, simply do not now and never will have).  But check out the ceiling of the laptop room:

and contrast it with the one in the Reading Room. 

In a cathedral to books, I know which space I'd rather be working in, laptop or no.

Monday, May 16, 2011

A picture of the SF public library

This is lovely and amazing.    
In a series of watercolors, an artist attempts to capture the essence of the San Francisco Public library.  I particularly like the sketches of each floor, where it's clear that different things are happening in different places, and that all of them qualify as legitimate library activities.  An excerpt:

New Places for you to Work (edited to give credit where due)

Joan Lippincott  and Sarah Watstein came to talk to us in the library this past semester about learning spaces.  We were shown photos of a variety of library spaces in a wide range of places.  I was particularly inspired by a picture of a picnic table tucked under a chalkboard in a friendly outdoor nook.  And I thought, "we can do that."

Thanks to the quick work of our facilities staff, when you come back for the summer sessions, or even if you are not coming back until the Fall, there are new workspaces waiting for you!  There are now chalkboards in the outdoor area just outside of Peets.  We are lucky in Charlotte to have nearly year-round outside-friendly weather.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Questions for you! Just in time for finals...

...but in this case, there's no such thing as a wrong answer.
We'll have easels up soon, so you can write your answer hard-copy if you like, but I thought I'd put the questions here in case someone (you, perhaps) might be inspired to answer them here.

We're trying to get at what people think about the library, and have been presented with some questions that might help us do that.

Please answer in the comments:

1.      1.   If the library as it is now were a car, what car would it be? What car would the library be if the library were everything we wish it to be?

2.    2.   If the library were to be a song, which song?

3.    3.   If the library were an actor/actress, who would it be?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Mobile Devices and how people use them

This is a great snapshot of mobile devices usage at UW--I believe the stats are campus-wide, not just in the library.

If you go to the URL on your smartphone, you'll see that we've got the beginnings of a mobile site.  In thinking about developing the new mobile site, we need to think about library things that people are likely to do on their phone (as opposed to on their laptop, in person, etc).  That means knowing the sorts of things that people already do on their phones (or tablets).

I see tablets and smartphones (as well as laptops and regular cell phones) as a part of student workspaces in the library all of the time.

Like this:


Do you use your smartphone to Google things?  What kinds of things?  What kinds of work do you do on your tablet (iPad, or other)?  Is it different from work you do on other kinds of computers (laptops, desktops)?  Are you Macs or PCs, and what difference does that make in the kinds of work you can do in the library and/or with library digital resources?

An Anthropologist in the Libraries of LA

No, not me.  No field trips for me, yet.

But I was sent this link to a great interview of the new head of the Library Foundation in LA--this gentleman is a trained anthropologist who did fieldwork in the Amazon, as well as many other non-library related jobs (among them, running the Sundance Institute, and while he did that, starting the documentary division of that film institute).

He clearly sees the LA libraries as community resources, not just (as if they ever were) dusty book repositories.  He describes libraries as "21st century spaces."

So do we, here at Atkins.  More and more of our collections are digital, in part because that is one of the best and most effective ways we can increase our patron access to world-class collections.  In thinking about space, we are thinking about the work you need to do, which includes the need to use books but also includes computers, digital materials, and eventually, information formatted in ways we haven't even imagined yet.

What does your library mean to you?  Is Atkins "your library?"  Or is it the public library back home?  Or in your neighborhood here in Charlotte?  Where are you when you are "in the library?"  Are you here in the building?  Or at home, "in" our website?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Google A Day--Trivia Questions to help investigate how people use google to search for information

So Google has a self-described "anthropologist of search," and his blog describes his new "A Google a Day" trivia game.

The game itself appears to be the point of much of the coverage--although at least one journalist sees the game as a potential search tool in and of itself.  Hardly anyone points out that what this game will actually do is allow Google to gather information on how people do search.  (this is not a secret--Google says that's what they're doing) I wonder if they will share with the rest of us what they learn, or just plow their knowledge back into Google.  I wonder if we could ever do something similar with the way that people search for information in our library.

People who know far more about search technology than I do doubtless have much to say about Google's efforts.  What do you think about their using a trivia game to gather information?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A North Entrance??

Yep, it's true.  We're getting a New Entrance to Atkins.  It will be on the North Side of the building, facing the Prospector, Burson, Smith, and the CHHS buildings.

This will mean big changes for the ground floor space--there will be more of it, for one thing.  What are the sorts of things that you want or need to do when you enter the library?  What sorts of things do you need to do after you enter?  What kinds of things do you need just before you leave?

What do you think that should mean, in terms of what we put in that space?
Let us know.
The easels are up again!  And if you don't write on them (or post in the comments below, or email me, or talk to someone at the Info desk....) we can't know what you're thinking about this.

So, get writing!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

New Stuff, and New Stuff Coming Soon (edited)

The Atkins website has been tweaked again, and includes a New Books widget that is a fun way for you to browse some of what's new on our shelves.

We'd like to hear from you about other fun and useful things you'd like to have on our website.  What about a new way to deal with group study room reservations?  What would you like to see in a mobile app for library resources?  How could we build QR codes into the mix?

Maybe you have been wishing for something that's none of those things on the list.

Please send in your ideas, and we will have a vote for the top three.  Those three items will be sent to our programmers, and they will make the call about whether or not we can make your dreams a reality!  Prizes will go to the people whose ideas end up being turned into actual programming.

Even if the ideas you send us are not programmable, they will tell us a lot about what you want from our website, and we always need to know that.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The meaning of "library," and thinking about privacy

This job gives me endless opportunities to observe and hear about the different meanings that people assign to libraries.

I was recently thinking about this when at the public library (the University City branch).  So many of us come to university libraries straight from our experiences at school and public libraries.  Public libraries are places that, to my mind, are coded as private, domestic, homey spaces, much like public schools.  They are places where we assume we will be safe (or should be safe, which is why assaults at libraries and schools are so jarring).  They are places that are an extension of our homes--they are places where we can be taken care of, learn things, make mistakes and still be OK.  Libraries are where we go if we don't have a desktop computer at home, or if ours is not working.  They are where we go for books about gardening (to help with our gardens), cooking (to help us eat well), and an array of fiction, DVDs, and music CDs (to help us when we are bored).  Our experiences with public libraries are personal ones.  Perhaps this is why public librarians are so fiercely protective of their patrons' privacy, in terms of what they borrow.  The assumption is that people check things out of the library because they need that information in their everyday lives.  A book about bomb-making, checked out at a public library, can mean something very particular, something personally sinister, because of the private connotations of the space.

University librarians are just as fierce in their protection of patron records as public librarians--the entire profession sees patron privacy as a crucial part of how they do their jobs. 

It is NC State Law that libraries have the right to refuse to share patron records, except for in very specific circumstances.  The law is as follows:

North Carolina General Statutes § 125-19, Confidentiality of library user records
(a) Disclosure. -- A library shall not disclose any library record that identifies a person as having requested or obtained specific materials, information, or services, or as otherwise having used the library, except as provided for in subsection (b).
(b) Exceptions. -- Library records may be disclosed in the following instances:
(1) When necessary for the reasonable operation of the library;
(2) Upon written consent of the user; or
(3) Pursuant to subpoena, court order, or where otherwise required by law. 

It is traditional for most library catalog systems NOT to keep patron borrowing histories on file.  That way,  even if authorities come in with a subpoena, there is nothing to share.  Patron privacy is provided by default, in the lack of history-keeping.

University libraries are professional spaces, places where people do the work of scholarship.  If someone checks out a book on bomb-making, it's more than likely because of a research project, and the connotaitions of that act of borrowing are less sinister than they would be at a public library.  The function of the university library transforms patron attitudes (somewhat) towards privacy--if the university library knows more about borrowing/viewing habits of its patrons, it can actually better serve those patrons by directing them towards materials that they are likely to find interesting/useful.  Some of our patrons have actually asked for us to direct them, within the catalog, to resources that they might find useful (much in the way Amazon suggests things based on your purchasing and viewing histories).

If we were to do this, we would have to keep patron viewing/borrowing history somewhere on our servers.  Should we ever be served with a subpoena, we would have materials that we would then have to hand over.  So our patrons would have to choose, between more targeted, Amazon-style recommendations from the library catalog system and absolute privacy.

I wonder which one you would choose?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The future of books

Recently the Atkins library participated in a day-long symposium on eBooks.  The keynote presentation was given by Dr. Mark Nelson, the CIO for the National Association of College Stores.  He gave a riveting talk about the potential of the new, electronic textbook:  customizable material, online supplements, video tutorials, interactive quizzes, portability, and much more.

During the panel discussion afterward, UNC Charlotte Student Body president Megan Smith gave the student perspective on textbooks, and e-textbooks in particular.  One of the points she made was that undergraduates do not highly value textbooks--they read them if they have to (i.e., if their grades will really suffer if they don't read them), but if they can get away with it, they won't.  Textbooks are expensive --just about any college paper has a regular feature article on just how bad it can get-- and part of the cost-benefit analysis involved in buying texts is:  can I sell it back?  Or: can I buy it used?  The buying and selling of used textbooks is a crucial part of student expense management, and eBooks do not offer such options.  It's hard to even lend an e-text to a friend, much harder than simply handing them the book.

This is the clash between what book sellers and publisher would like to sell students (framed as "what students will be doing in the future,") and what students actually need.  Perhaps the content of textbooks is better delivered electronically.  Does it need to be an e-book?  Could it be online content, instead, independent of an e-reader?  What connection is there from what the e-book industry (and their allies in publishing) would like to happen, and the work that students are engaging in, in their everyday lives at university?

In my observations of students in the library, and in the classroom, I see them using a variety of media--they might or might not have laptop computers, but they always have something that is paper, either a notebook, a textbook, printed out articles, or (frequently) all three of those.  I see people using their smart phones, but not so much for the studying part of their day as for the other parts of their day--the keeping in touch with friends and family, the scheduling of their activities (yes, that includes academic scheduling, when to get to class, etc).  Paper is still very much a part of the everyday lives of students.  They write notes on paper, they highlight paper textbooks, they write in the margins of articles printed out on paper.  Some of those functions are incorporated into the latest e-readers, and I'm sure those functions will get more effective through time--but at what financial cost?

At a time when tuition costs are rising, and it's increasingly difficult to find employment, assuming that students will be able to pony up for an expensive electronic device when they are already struggling to acquire the paper materials they need for classes is a flawed assumption.

I will be interested to see what happens in the future.  What do you do, to get the materials you have to know to do well in your classes?  Professors, how will you (or will you) change what you require your students to read for your classes?

Information on Library eBook resources can be found here:

A library story

I heard a story yesterday, from a faculty member in the College of Education, about the renovation of Atkins library in the late 1990s.  During that renovation, the two separate pieces of the library, the original building (opened  in 1964), and the tower (completed in 1972), were to be connected by a wrap-around structure (what is now the ground-3rd floors of the library).  A new brick facade would make the three structures feel connected aesthetically as well as physically.

The original plan was to use a state-of-the-art method to face the building with bricks:  a top-down method!  The entire campus witnessed the bricks being put on, the facade creeping down the building.
Finally it was finished.  Except then, the bricks started to fall off.

The facade had to be replaced, this time with a less-revolutionary (but more effective) bottom-up approach to laying the brick surface. 

Top-down didn't work!  I love this as a metaphor for how a library, and indeed a university should function.  Attention needs to be paid to the grass-roots actions and needs of the university community:  students, faculty, and staff alike.  Out of an understanding of those everyday priorities can arise effective policies.  That is a large part of the rationale for the Atkins Ethnography Project--to ground the decisions we make as a library in a fine-grained knowledge of what our patrons are doing, what they think they need, and what we can effectively provide.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Quiet Zones and where to do work in the library

You may have noticed that furniture is being moved around in the library this semester.  Last semester, we moved carrels out of the ground floor (near the Library Cafe), and moved in the couches, chairs, tables, and whiteboards that are there now .  As of this semester, carrels have been moved from the second floor, on the eastern side of the atrium (in front of the glass wall, in front of the periodical stacks), and replaced by open tables and wooden chairs.

Where are the carrels being placed?

Some of them went to the western end of the library, along the curved wall of windows, overlooking the SAC.  Most of them are going up to the third floor, where open tables are being replaced by carrels.

Why all the moving around?  We are trying to take furniture that speaks of quiet study (carrels) and move it into spaces well-suited for quiet study (the western end of the library away from the main entrance, the third floor).  We shall see if those furniture-based signals translate into actual quiet.  Carrels also make it harder to do group work.  By providing more space on the first, second and ground floors for groups to get work done, we provide a place for people to go when they need to be constructively noisy.

This is on my mind not just because of the furniture moving, but also because of a recent suggestion box entry which stated, "There are many things library could do to provide a good/quiet environment for students who want to study, But library really doesn't do any."

I just don't think this is true.  Our work is far from finished, but we are trying, with the right placement of furniture and policy, to provide both quiet spaces (the third floor, the ground floor in the compact stacks room, and all of the tower floors) as well as spaces where people can work with a steady (yet manageable) level of noise.

Part of the job of keeping the library noise levels manageable is, frankly, up to the people who use the space.  Once we've made it clear on our end where you can do what kind of work, it's  up to you (and your classmates and colleagues) to find the place that fits.  And to pay attention to the furniture cues around you, and also to what other people are doing in the space in which you find yourself.

So, working in a group?  Try a table on the first floor.  Or a group study room.--we've created several more study rooms in the last semester.   Or a table on the second floor near the atrium.  Or the new collaborative study space on the ground floor, near the Library Cafe.

Working by yourself, but don't mind a dull roar around you?  (maybe the noise actually helps you focus?).  Anywhere in the library can be right for you.

Need a quiet place to focus?  Try the Halton Room, at the back of the main floor of the library.  Or anywhere on the Third Floor.  Or the western end of the first and second  floors (overlooking the SAC), or the second floor back in the periodicals, in the eastern part of the library.  Or try the tower floors, or the desks in the compact stacks room, on the ground floor.

We are working all the time to figure out what you need to do, and to try to configure spaces in the library to facilitate that work.  As new furniture arrangements (and occasionally, new furniture) appear, you can help by giving us feedback on what works and what doesn't.  

You can do that here:

Or by commenting on this blog, sending me an email, or even by leaving a message at the Info Desk.
And we can see what gets used, and what doesn't, and work further to make things into a better fit.

One final note:  loud phone conversations feel out of place everywhere.  But that's a larger etiquette problem, one not easily solved by the library alone!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Academically Adrift? More like, Liberal Arts Rule!

Arum and Roksa's book Academically Adrift:  Limited Learning on College Campuses is getting lots of press these days, and the links are flying fast and furious among my colleagues who work both in and out of college classrooms. 
Inside Higher Ed summarizes in bullet points:

  • 45 percent of students "did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning" during the first two years of college.
  • 36 percent of students "did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning" over four years of college.
  • Those students who do show improvements tend to show only modest improvements. Students improved on average only 0.18 standard deviations over the first two years of college and 0.47 over four years. What this means is that a student who entered college in the 50th percentile of students in his or her cohort would move up to the 68th percentile four years later -- but that's the 68th percentile of a new group of freshmen who haven't experienced any college learning."
And the Seattle Times makes the headline a lament:  "Study: Students slog through college, but don't gain much critical thinking." 

What I think I find most fascinating is the reporters' choice of what to focus on, i.e. that "large numbers [of students] didn't learn critical thinking," etc.  I think the real story is the efficacy of a liberal arts education in facilitating those ...very things. I think this could be used as an argument to strengthen the very things that are now being cut in budget times--the traditional liberal arts and sciences--and in fact to require a solid degree in those before moving on to a professional degree. Imagine: financiers with critical thinking skills!!