Monday, September 19, 2011

WeCare @ The Library

A little over a year ago, President Derry set up an email address to encourage open communication directly with him. He receives ideas, comments, kudos, concerns, and complaints at that address and he follows up on each one.

Last week he forwarded a message to me that was a complaint about the library's “scarce” weekend hours.
"The library closes at 5pm on Fridays and does not open up again until 2pm on Sunday afternoons. This makes any studying or researching that needs to be done over the weekend virtually impossibly for students."
The student explained her particular situation at length and said she knew of others in the same boat. She was “forced to procrastinate” until Sunday rather than spend their Friday night and Saturday hours working on their paper in the library.

She added, “I feel the lack
of weekend library access is hindering my education. To me, it does not
make any sense to have the library closed.”

Truthfully, I could not decide whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.

On the one hand I admit that my feelings were hurt. Someone found fault with “my library.” I am passionate about the mission and purpose of the Darling Library so it's difficult not to take criticism personally. I don't want to disappoint our students or the President.

On the other hand, I can take it as a compliment that the library is so indispensable that students are concerned that “the lack
of weekend library access is hindering [their] education.”

When the relevance of libraries has been challenged by Google, Amazon, and Starbucks and various futurists have put libraries on the endangered (or at least threatened) species list, I welcome a perception that the library isn't open enough!

I have spent many brain cells advocating for the library. Over the years I have written numerous proposals for grants and increased budgetary funding to introducing new services, for increasing staffing, for stocking the shelves with relevant books, and for being open more hours. Maybe I'll just reference this message next time I need to make a case for library hours!

Dr. Derry asked me if I had any way of determining the peak demand hours for library usage or knowing if this was a widespread concern. He likes to see data. So do I.

In my apology to this student for the inconvenience suffered due to our limited weekend hours, I offered an explanation of how we arrive at the hours we are open. We use a gate/people counter, circulation, and login statistics, as well as impressions of our student library assistants who work at our two service desks to inform our decisions. However, I fully realize that times change and it is difficult to measure library usage when we are closed! It may be time to revise the policy.

Without knowing her specific need, I didn't know whether planning ahead or using our online resources would have saved her from having to wait until we were open on Sunday to work on her paper.

It may seem odd to our online students that someone would actually need to be in the library to do research. Why would someone need to be in the library to do research when so much is available online?

I can think of several reasons.

If the materials she needed were on Reserve (to remain in the library) or Reference (non-circulating) then she would be forced to be in the library to use them. If she relies on the Information Commons for access to a computer, a scanner, particular software, or printing, then she may not have had another choice on campus. Besides all that, there is the "library as place" phenomenon. The idea that this is where I study -- where the book stacks and everyone around me are here because this is where we get to work. The academic library is designed to be a space that inspires academic activity.

I asked if she would contact me to help me understand the need more fully. But for now, our hours of operation will be scarce on the weekends until the last six weeks of the semester when our extended hours go into effect.

Our mission is serve the information needs of the Hope community. Our library facility is one we are happy to say that students want to use (it hasn't always been that way). I hope students know that we care at the library.
Closed sign from

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