Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Measure of a Library

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There it stands: the library to which I compare all others. Why do I do this? Did that library win some prestigious award? Did some professor of mine hold it up as an example of the perfect library? It might have on an award or been cited as an example, but that's not why I use the Peabody Institute Library in Danvers, Massachusetts as my measure of a good library. It's simpler than that. The Peabody Institute is the library that serves the town where I grew up. Even better, it was close enough that my parents would let me ride my bike there, unsupervised. So I did. A lot.

Of course, it doesn't hurt that it was (and still is) a great library. Here are the things that stand out in my memory:
  • There was always someone there to help. From introducing me to The Island of Blue Dolphins, to making the copier work, to explaining the Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature, the library staff were there for me.
  • They always seemed to have what I needed. Although I had moved away from that area for almost a decade, I moved back and ended up getting my MLIS at Simmons College. I don't remember the specific assignment that had me confounded, but I do remember one of the reference librarians suggesting a resource I hadn't considered - a resource that was perfect for my burgeoning librarian needs.
  • Even the building is welcoming. It had (has?) every kind of work space one might need, from reading nooks to meeting rooms and everything in between. 

I'm sure that their building has its problems - don't they all? Leaky roofs, drafty study rooms, limited storage space, etc. But I think about the impression that library made on me as a child and beyond, and I think about how I want my library to make the same impression on people in my community. I want our patrons to know that we are here for them, that we have what they need, and that they are welcome. It's a feeling that goes beyond print versus electronic, beyond services versus collections, beyond most of the things I've written about on this blog. I don't think there's a sure fire way to achieve this goal, but I keep trying anyway.

How about you? Do you have a library to which you compare all others? Why does that library stick with you?

6 comments:

  1. Hmm, I'm not sure that I do! I think as a MA public librarian there is a tendency to compare everything we do to what the BPL does/can do, though.

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    1. Professional comparison is important, too. I try not to compare what we do to schools like Middlebury and Bryn Mawr, but it's hard not to at times.

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  2. I'll use this space to call out two of my library crushes: North Carolina State University and Grand Valley State University (MI). Both aren't afraid to experiment, which fosters cultures of exploration and creativity, two things libraries and librarians need more of these days.

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    1. I've never been to either, but I've got a long standing library crush on Middlebury College.

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  3. I have an enormous fondness for my university library in Hull (England!) It's an incredibly ugly building I must admit, it looks a bit like an airport control centre but was such a little haven for me I love going back there. I absolutely love the British Library in terms of everything else though, if I lived in London I suspect I'd be in there every day!

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    1. Pretty or ugly doesn't matter as much to me, although the Peabody Institute was lovely. It's how I felt when I was there that has always stuck with me, and it sounds like Hull has stuck with you for the same reason.

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