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“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.

Reference

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

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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