Academic libraries

I came across a great example of roving support from across the pond at the Kutztown University. As with many things our American cousins are quite the innovators.

Roving or roaming support in HE libraries is pretty common-place but I love this idea of booking a librarian for a particular class or space. Where I work now we are developing roving support through our other learning spaces, outside the central library to support students wherever they are (within reason!).

There’s no reason why, with the abundance of mobile technology and location software that librarians need to be refined to the traditional reference desk.

Kutztown University of Pennsylvania

Image via Wikipedia

“I define postmodern as incredulity toward meta-narratives” Jean-François Lyotard (1979)

Now over 30 years old the above quote by Jean-François Lyotard is part of a longer work in which he, to a great extent, defined the great cultural condition of our times; post modernism.

If postmodernism is about incredulity towards meta-narratives or incredulity towards accepted truths then what does this mean in the context of an academic library? It partly involves a rejection or at least re-imagining of what is considered as an academic library both externally and internally. One way in which this re-imagining is manifested is through the growth of Learning Spaces. These spaces take the once highly structured and didactic space of the library and take it into new and less controlled parts of campuses.

Inflatable learning pod inside learning centre at Glasgow Caledonian University

Inflatable Pod Glasgow Caledonian University

Learning Spaces are typically more social, less didactic and more ad hoc than the more traditional forms of academic library. They do not replace central HE library but rather reach out to the rest of the university and take those parts of libraries which can operate with less control. Group study, debating space, presentation rehearsal space or just casual conversational space are all catered for through these new spaces.

These developments in HE libraries are in essence the development of libraries without walls.


Jean-Francois Lyotard (1979) La Condition postmoderne: Rapport sur le savoir. Paris: Éditions de Minuit.

a kindle next to a pile of print booksThe enormous success of e-readers has led some commentators to suggest that soon no print books will be published. This reminded me of the amended titular quote by Paul Delaroche who supposedly said in 1840 that “today painting is dead” upon seeing the Daguerreotype (the earliest form of photographic process). 170 years on and painting has not died, it is no longer as dominant an artistic medium as it once was but it’s still integral to artistic practice for students of the subject.

This analogy can be taken further. The reason painting has not died is because photography is not a like-for-like replacement. The same can be said of a Kindle compared to a print book. Even as colour screen e-readers become the norm they won’t replace a printed book. And it’s not because of some intangible, nostalgic reason it’s because a printed book fulfils a different objective to an e-reader. You can’t, for example, fill a bookcase with e-books. You can’t browse e-books in the same way as print books. I, as a Kindle owner and lover of print books find the general accession of information considerably easier via a bookshop or library shelf than a web page on Amazon.

And these few factors alone are why print books won’t die out.

man looking over fenceI recently had the experience of working in the library of a private sector higher education institute in the UK, which will remain nameless (although you could probably find out if you really wanted to).

Private HEIs are something of an oddity in UK higher education but given the current government’s pre-occupation with privatisation and marketisation it’s likely they will become more widespread. My observations therefore might be useful in the current climate – either that or they won’t be any use to anyone whatsoever, which is more likely.

I was employed as a librarian with line management responsibility of two library assistants, academic liaison for a number of subjects and, given the small size of the institution, issue and enquiry desk duties on a regular basis. Nothing different from the average state university there then. The main differences I noticed concerned the ‘customer’ focussed approach throughout the library and wider department.

While I’m not convinced by the notion of a student as customer (customers invariably have used a service before whereas many students are completely new to higher education) the focus at this institution was around maximising face-to-face help for students and avoiding, where possible, the adoption of technologies to reduce face-to-face service such as self-issue/return. Given the more customer focussed ideology it was unsurprising that students, on the whole, expected a great deal of time from librarians and library staff in general.

I expect this may become more of a trend in UK higher education as students pay more to come to university and expect more ‘bang for their buck’. The library, as the ‘shop front’ of many HEIs will undoubtedly become a focal point for such expectancy. However I believe, given  my experiences of different HE libraries, that such expectations can be well met in HE libraries where students can see where their money is paying for resources be they electronic, human or printed.

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