Is the academic library a sacred space?

University of Michigan's Law Library

As more materials are digitized and the necessity of the academic library building is questioned, the theory of the library “as place” is gaining ground. That is, the campus library is not just where students get books for research. It’s also a neutral, maybe quieter, space where students can meet to socialize and study together. The general perspective is that an academic library’s physical collection (books, bound journals) may not be as important in the future but the library building will always be needed. In a recent College & Research Libraries article, “Serving Higher Education’s Highest Goals: Assessment of the Academic Library as Place,” Heather Lea Jackson and Trudi Bellardo Hahn, University of Maryland, propose a different version of the library “as place.” They used evaluation methodologies from the psychology of religion and the architecture of sacred spaces to explore how the academic library connects students to the scholarship of their predecessors. It’s an interesting read.

This excerpt in particular provokes thought:

If asked, students may not state that they want visible stacks in the library; in fact, if asked whether they intend to use the books on the shelves, they may say they have no intention of using them. However, if the stacks are taken completely away, they may feel a keen detrimental effect. Therefore, it is important to examine the academic library from this affective perspective prior to planning new construction or making any drastic changes in the design and model of the traditional library, rather than relying on student input in the simplistic form of “Please let us know what you’d like to see in the new library.” While students may request a coffee shop, computer stations, and the latest technology, this cannot reflexively be considered to be a wish for those things to the exclusion of more traditional design and items. Traditional and modern elements can happily coexist, but careful planning and sensitivity to these subtle, but significant, desires are required.

C&RL recently decided to provide open access to their issues. You can read Jackson and Bellardo Hahn’s complete article here.

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