Over at In the Library with the Lead Pipe, Kim Leeder discusses the rhetorical value of the term “traditional library.” She closes with the following observation:
If we define [the traditional library] rhetorically as an institution focused on physical spaces and materials, then there remains no question: the traditional library is dead. That doesn’t mean libraries as an institution are dead, nor does it mean that the physical library as a component of some larger organization is dead. The traditional library has been replaced with an expanded vision of itself, one that encompasses traditional values and features but extends outward to include the vastness of free and licensed digital resources as well as spaces and services that are entirely people-focused. The contemporary library, in contrast to the traditional library, resides online, teaches, reaches out and asserts its value across its community. [emphasis added]
In this way, every academic library exists on a spectrum between traditional, book-/space-centered work and contemporary, instruction-/service-centered work. In my opinion, a moderately successful library will be one that is keenly aware of its place on the spectrum and is able to articulate its value as such, but the highest success (at least in today’s information-rich, digitally connected landscape) will be reserved for those who can strategically align themselves closer to the contemporary side of the spectrum through teaching and outreach.
Sally Bryant and Michelle Jacobs-Lustig, librarians at Pepperdine University in Malibu, exhibited a number of innovations at their library. As noted in their introduction, they’ve take a “perpetual beta” approach to library services and moved away from a one-size-fits-all model. As a result, here are some of their successes:
Think of these as glorified student assistants. In addition to helping to maintain library operations, these students become service points. They are trained for more than just direction inquiries. Each student is expected to complete a weekly training assignment that may include “how to cite properly” or require them to write a review of a database. They also wear personalized (and vibrant!) name badges, inspiring both a sense of responsibility, improving performance, and [anecdotally] increasing positive feedback from users.
All the pamphlets, flyers, and announcements were removed from the reference desk and replaced with a single Mac, a huge light bulb lamp, and an LED keyboard (all bright, shiny, and flashing). The light bulb became the de facto mascot of the reference desk (I don’t have a photo, but it is CUTE!). According to Bryant and Jacobs-Lustig, this has helped them move “from reference to conversation.”
Improved Digital Signage and Wayfinding
Convoluted signs were simplified. The library added screens displaying library services. Many colorful arrows were employed to direct students. Never underestimate the power of colorful arrows (reminded me of the hallways from the Battle School in Ender’s Game)
Dead Week Detours
During the week before finals, the library offered a numbed of activities for students, including: build your own cupcakes, yoga and stretch classes, and holiday card design. The materials for these classes were purchased by the library (very inexpensive) and the popularity of these events was driven by word-of-mouth (esp. Facebook).
Other innovative ways of improving public services included:
- Allowing students to create their own work schedules and swap when necessary
- Redesigned website to include more action words (instead of “Research Guides”, “Start your research here!”)
- Relied more on word-of-mouth and less on pushy marketing
- Moved scheduling and statistics to LibCal and LibAnalytics by Springshare (there was a lot of Springshare love in the room!)
- Created “shush” cards for students to hand out (above photo). Apparently, librarians don’t do enough shushing, but the students were more than willing to take up the responsibility.
There are many exiting things happening at Pepperdine Libraries. Academic librarians, keep an eye on these folks!