Library Buildings

12/03/2014 § 6 Comments

This semester I’m taking a class on library buildings. “Library buildings? Is that a class?” you ask? Indeed it is! Taught by Fred Schlipf, an LIS professor, library buildings consultant, and former public library director, the course is an introduction to the physical spaces that LIS institutions occupy. One of the most practical courses I’ve taken in library school, it is less focused on the history or culture of library buildings and more on the actual working parts of library buildings and their renovation/construction.

While slightly geared towards public library structures, the class offers information that would benefit any specialization/path. As Fred said on the first day of class, “you will almost certainly be part of or affected by a library building project at some point in your career.” This has been true for many of the practicing librarians and archivists I know. The further we get into the course, the more surprised I am at its uniqueness: according to Fred, very few other library schools offer a comparable course. I have found it immensely helpful to learn about everything from reading blueprints (not as scary as it seems) to arranging bookstacks (good sightlines mean less theft!) to heading off suggestions of “couldn’t we turn that building into a library?” (most buildings do not have the structural strength to hold books unless they are specifically designed to do so).

The Geisel Library at UC San Diego certainly *looks* cool... But future expansion is going to be tricky... (Image Source)

The Geisel Library at UC San Diego certainly *looks* cool… But future expansion is going to be tricky… (CC 2.0 liscensed image from Flickr user ewen and donabel)

While very few people *plan* on being part of a library building project, it seems almost inevitable, and the knowledge required is very niche. Being comfortable with renovation/construction topics and vocabulary can be a major asset, especially in a smaller/more remote environment (apparently one of Fred’s former students was able to shine in an interview by pointing to redesign blueprints taped to the director’s office walls and commenting on them with some fluency). Thus, in light of the revelation that Library Buildings classes do not exist at most schools, I’ve pulled together a few resources to share with the Hack Library School community. I know that “free time” is rather scarce as a grad student, but if you have some and feel so inclined, take a look at some of these; the resulting know-how will probably be useful sooner than you think!

State of America’s Libraries Reports – 2013 reportArchived reports
Published annually, this report contains a section on library construction and renovation, which can be a great way to dip your toes into the recent challenges and issues.

American Libraries Design/Buildings supplements – 2012 supplement 
Every so often publications like American Libraries will put out special issues on library facilities, construction, renovation, and/or design. These are also fun, low-stress ways to acquaint yourself with new developments.

Webinars – e.g. “Constructing the Future Library: Architectural & Digital Considerations” (free recording of a 2011 ALCTS webinar)
Webinars are your best friend when it comes to topics your school doesn’t have classes on. Do some searching and you’ll often find recordings of past presentations for free!

Books on library construction! 
When you’re ready to bite off a bit more, there are a number of fabulous, recent books on library construction and renovation projects. The two we’re using extensively in my class are: Managing Your Library Construction Project: A Step-by-Step Guide (2007) and Checklist of Library Building Design Considerations (2008). I’ve also come across many others that look equally informative.

Got any other great library building resources? Or have you been part of a building project at some point in your career? Share your advice and thoughts in the comments!

Service Learning: Friend or Foe?

06/12/2013 § 1 Comment

One of my courses this semester (Community Informatics) required a sizable amount of “service learning” (for those who don’t know, service learning is basically community service/volunteering activities that are incorporated into a course). When I mentioned the extensive, unpaid time commitment that the service learning represented to a friend of mine, he balked: “So they’re basically making you volunteer? That’s crazy. Plus it can’t really be considered volunteering if they make you do it…” This got me thinking about the various pro’s and con’s of service learning, a course component that seems to be more and more prevalent these days. For those who have a service learning component in an upcoming course or who are interested in designing their own service learning experience, here are some pros and cons (as I see it) of service learning:

  • Con: Service learning is time-consuming. This semester I had to commit to 4 hours a week of volunteering at a library or computer lab. While this doesn’t seem like much, I also work 20 hours a week, take classes full time, am an officer for a student group, and contribute to this blog (love you guys!). Not to mention I live in the same town as my family, and am thus often committed outside of school/work. Therefore, I do not often initially relish seeing a service learning requirement on a syllabus. A service learning component can also require an initial time commitment to scout out a site, go through an orientation, and set up training (depending on what you’re doing). There’s also the transportation time, field notes time (as you often can’t jot down info until after your shift), and reflection time (as service learning usually involves reflection writing assignments).
  • Con/Pro: Service learning is hard work. Whether it’s explaining to a senior citizen how to log in to a computer, open a browser, and log in to their email for the 100th time (ok, so it hasn’t happened 100 times, but sometimes it feels like it) or building custom-made wooden computer stations in your professor’s workshop (see below), service learning will challenge you in a variety of ways.

    Ah the Saturdays spent in safety goggles. So fun!

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When Library School Hands You Lemons

22/11/2013 § 17 Comments

My library school experience has, I’m sad to say, handed me a bunch of lemons. There are the professors who aren’t as inspiring as I would prefer (sorry), the journal articles that look like they weren’t proofread, the classes that are scheduled at times that are inconvenient for everyone. Including the instructor.

And then there’s the fact that one of the classes I need for my specialization is offered only in the spring, and this spring it is offered at a time when I cannot take it for religious reasons (probably NSFW), which is the biggest lemon of all.

Meanwhile, I’m paying a not-insignificant amount for my education, so let’s talk about how to turn these lemons into lemonade. « Read the rest of this entry »

Too Much Structure or Not Enough?

14/10/2013 § 20 Comments

No librarian, me.

No librarian, me.

I confused some people when I said that I was going to library school, but that I wanted to be an archivist. I developed my passion for archives when I was an undergrad, and that was the specialization I was going to the pursue in library school. I’ll just come right out and say it- I had no interest in becoming a librarian. Man, that feels good to get off my chest.

This doesn’t mean that I’m entirely devoid of librarian skills. Maryland requires 12 credits of core classes (out of 36 total) for all MLS students, so there are plenty of opportunities to intermingle. It’s been fascinating to learn about the different approaches librarians and archivists take to similar issues such as long-term preservation, or the differences in user interactions.

After those 12 credits, though, it’s harder to get that useful cross-specialization interaction. Many of the specializations at Maryland are adding more required courses, and becoming more strictly prescribed. Online cohorts in the general and e-government tracks, as well as the school library track and the archives/digital curation double specialization, are completely or almost completely set programs, with no chance for electives. And there are signs that the other specializations will follow suit. There are fewer and fewer opportunities to take classes with students from other cohorts as you go through the program.

“That’s excellent,” I hear you say. “Having a plan ahead of time takes the stress out of course selection, and you know from day one the sort of topics you’ll be covering. I love it.”

Whoa, Skippy. Let’s stop and think about this for a second. An entirely structured graduate program might be great in a STEM field- a you must learn X, Y, Z in that order kind of thing. But an MLS degree is much more fluid.  What happens when you get into the workplace and have to work with say, an archivist, but you can’t understand why they’re more concerned about temperature controls than the serials budget?  The ability to work across fields is vital, but gets lost when the student doesn’t get the chance to choose to break down those barriers. Or on a more practical level, what happens when you decide to change specializations- say when you decide you don’t want to be a school librarian anymore and want to pursue the e-government track? Are you willing to start from scratch because you haven’t taken the courses in the prescribed order?

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Library School Mergers

11/10/2013 § 15 Comments

I recently received an email via my library school’s student listserv explaining that our university Provost has asked the library school and the College of Media to explore “integrating their two units.” It is very early in the exploratory process, and certainly not a sure thing yet, but it got me thinking about the possibilities. I don’t know much about the merger idea, but it seemed OK to me: easier access to more classes and professors, additional networking contacts, and perhaps a stronger focus on writing/communication for library students? What’s not to like?

However, it seems my opinion is not shared by everyone. Another library student/employee responded (to everyone): “It will be a horrible disaster for all new graduates who want jobs and will definitely destroy GSLIS itself.” After some brief online searching I found an article in the local newspaper from a few years ago when the exact same merge was proposed. In it, our former dean explained that his main reason for opposing the merge was the possibility of our rankings “plummeting”: “The decision on our side was really about, ‘How would a different structure likely affect our competitiveness?’ It wasn’t a rejection of Media.”

(Image source)

What’s involved in a merger? Is it just a name change or something more? (CC licensed image from Flickr user Daquella manera)

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