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Library as Place

I’m at my part-time gig, sitting in a sweltering library with a stand-up fan blowing at me at full speed. Despite the evening being a pleasant 70 degrees, the heat is on in this building thanks to a “once it’s on, it’s on” temperature regulation system (it was 42 degrees this weekend).

As I wipe the sweat off my face (eww) I am acutely aware of the importance of a comfortable library building on a patron’s “Library Experience.” Apparently, so are the authors of a new study in September’s issue of College & Research Libraries. In Library Service Perceptions: A Study of Two Universities, Lynn Sutton, Rosann Bazirjian and Stephen Zerwas replicated OCLC’s 2005 College Students’ Perceptions of Libraries and Information Resources study at two academic libraries in North Carolina. Despite OCLC’s  findings that 70% of college students reported “books” as the first thing they think about when they think about libraries, these North Carolina librarians found that at two NC academic institutions, students primarily thought of the “building/environment” when they thought about libraries.

The “library as place” is not dead. At my previous place of employment–a large, urban, commuter university–the library was THE place to be in between classes (and in the morning, and at lunch, and after classes, and in the evenings). Not wanting to lose a parking spot, or commute 45 minutes home for lunch, students instead chose to park themselves in front of a computer or at a group study table to get a headstart (or was a catch-up?) on homework. The library was noisy, crowded, and full. It was also a beautiful building. Despite the Cheeto stains on a few chairs or the Starbucks spills on a few carpet squares, the library was, for the most part, one of the nicest buildings on campus. Students knew it, and as a result, they chose to make it their study-home.

I’m hoping the heat will eventually turn off in my current library, but until then I’ll dream of my own personal library utopia: a climate-controlled building with lots of windows, comfy chairs, a fantastic wireless signal, and a great Steinbeck collection.

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