Column Description: Libraries are a bridge between the scholastic pursuits of a student and the co-curricular activities outside the classroom, as a librarian we see all sides. This column is a chance to explore and discuss how libraries can capitalize on this unique position. Libraries of today are not the quiet dark hallowed halls we still see on TV and in the movies. Today, libraries are bright and noisy and filled with movement. On campuses all over librarians are finding ways to engage with their communities through active and innovative programming, collaboration, and by being flexible.
At the end of my last column,I asked the question about how your libraries were taking on the challenge of being at the forefront of facilitating student engagement and collaboration on campus.
Do you have designated programmers on your staff, either formal or informally? Has your library created a position such as Outreach Librarian, whose job description includes fostering these relationships across campus departments? Do you have a committee that discusses goals and plans for the semester or year, and then works together to share the load of making them happen? Each of these is avenues that can be taken to help facilitate an environment that encourages both students and campus faculty and staff to view the library as more; more than just a glorified study hall or musty old building filled with obsolete physical books. Is your library someplace that other units on campus think of when they are having discussions about planning a large collaborative project on campus? Are Librarians included in campus-wide committees, and not only because they have a standing seat?
Too often it is easy to become complacent in our programming and to become mired in longstanding beliefs about how things are, rather than focusing on how things might be. While this is not unique to academic libraries by any means, being so closely aligned with our academic counterparts may make us more prone to it. I encourage us to instead look to our colleagues in the public libraries and on campus in the student life divisions, who very often adopt new and innovative programming much more quickly than those of us in academic libraries.
How can we partner and collaborate with them in our spaces to motivate and invigorate our students and faculty? There are many examples of successful Library Cons (which began in public libraries) that have now been adopted on academic campuses. These programs in particular are an excellent example of how libraries can provide a unique window into a students’ experience both academically and extracurricular. While the event itself may be billed as something to do outside of class, libraries can recruit faculty members to do panels and talks on subjects related to the overall theme; this not only adds an academic element but also allows students to relate to their faculty in a less formal and fun way outside of the classroom.
Other units from around campus may also be recruited to participate, such as campus dining, student activities, clubs, and organizations. Local businesses might also get involved, especially those such as local bookstores and comic book stores. There are hands-on activities that can be interspersed with panels and talks, and depending on the scope of the program guest speakers may be invited. Events such as this can prove to be great talking points for the library, and may also be good for enrollment management and recruitment as an example of something, not every other campus offers.
With the current pandemic, I realize that many of us are unable to offer this kind of program that I speak of above, and have had to shift our focus to be even more creative to continue to engage our students. I also recognize that this burden has affected the morale of so many of us, which often makes it more difficult to find that creativity. Again, here is where I encourage you to reach out and tap into those units on campus who may also be working on similar low batteries and attempting to engage in the same ways. What is your Residence Life Office doing? How is your Student Activities or Multicultural Center programming? Can you work together to offer grab-and-go crafts (much like our public library friends) that are both educational and creative? Can you create supplemental research guides that support the programming one of these offices is doing?
I acknowledge that we are not back to our pre-pandemic level of normal, and may never be. Now is the time to start thinking about how you want to shape our libraries and this field going forward.
Carrie is currently the Library Director of the Resnick Library at SUNY Delhi. Carrie has worked in academic libraries in both instruction and outreach, and as a solo public librarian. Her career in higher education began as a Residence Hall Director, and she spent over a decade working in student life. Carrie believes strongly in collaborating with a wide variety of outside areas to make the library stronger. When not on campus, you might find her working on crafts with her two children, SCUBA diving with her husband, or perhaps curled up under a few cats with a good book.