Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Summary of "Academic libraries: 'social' or 'communal?'" for LIBR 200

In his article "Academic libraries: 'social' or communal?'" Jeffrey Gayton explores the use of academic libraries as a communal space and how the recent trend of converting libraries into a social space is detrimental to the communal environment.  Gayton defines communal space in libraries as a place where students and faculty can go to quietly study next to others engaged in similar activity.  He argues that introducing noisy, non-library related areas is detrimental to this type of activity not only in the sense that it uses up finite resources in terms of funds and space, but also in that it is difficult to properly separate these spaces and they are, by nature, incompatible.

To support his claims Gayton uses data that show that among libraries that have recently undergone renovation, libraries that devoted more space to traditional library use experienced higher increases in gate counts when compared to libraries that devoted more space to social areas such as cafes.  Gayton also cites surveys that show the appreciation of students and younger faculty for communal library space.

I chose this article because in the academic library that I currently work at they recently announced plans to add a cafe to increase gate count. As it turns out the cafe is not going in after all because the announcement was made previous to approval by the health and safety people, which fell through.  I was opposed to the idea from the beginning (but nobody listens to a lowly student assistant).  Space concerns on campus have lead to several departments moving into the library and taking over space that was previously study space for the students.  The cafe would have gone up in an area that is currently one of the few remaining designated "quiet study areas."

As a student assistant with access services I spend a lot of time in the stacks shelving or paging books and based on what I see on a daily basis what Gayton is saying makes sense.  I have often been asked by students where the best place in the library is for quiet study and I always see a lot of students making use of the study carrels when in the stacks. There are complaints if someone makes noise in areas designated for quiet study.  During finals week there is never enough study space, so I'm concerned over how much it has diminished over the past couple of years.

Gayton, J. (2008). Academic Libraries: "Social" or "Communal?" The Nature and Future of Academic Libraries. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 34(1), 60-6. Retrieved August 25, 2009, from Library Lit & Inf Full Text database.

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