Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Welcome to Our World

I have this theory about libraries and students who are under-prepared and/or who learn differently (catch all phrase for learning disabilities, ADHD/ADD, autism spectrum, etc.): the library represents academic pursuits and things that make them struggle. It is so important to remember that we have patrons who struggle with the things we assume users can do easily. We've made our lives in the library, but it can be intimidating to others. We libr* types need to do something about that. As for me, one of the things I try to do wherever I'm working is to make the library more welcoming. We all have students who learn differently and who aren't as prepared. Besides, even if your patrons aren't under-prepared or learning disabled, it never hurts to enhance your relationship with the members of your community.

That relationship building and enhancing is something we're trying to do at my library, and towards that end we spent the entirety of a monthly staff meeting brainstorming and hashing out different ways to make our library more welcoming to students. That's why that picture above happened: one of the ideas was for all staff members to dress for a theme of some sort, like goofy hats. And so, once I determined that everyone was comfortable with the idea of the hats, we picked a week and went with it. Wow did it work. So many stressed out students would see me in my witch hat or my tiara, or the reference librarian in her pith helmet, and burst into laughter. At one point a colleague in another department said something like, "You should advertise that you're doing it. Otherwise people will think you're just being silly." My response: "But we are just being silly. That's the point." The best part? People in other departments around campus wanted to join in the next time we do this!

Other ideas we have for the future or that we have put into action:
  • Student art exhibited in the library, either temporarily or permanently.
  • Coffee bar at night during exams.
  • Giving student groups the opportunity to design and put up book displays in the library.
  • A library sponsored essay contest that ties into an existing celebration of student scholarship.
I want to bring this post back to where I started, so I can explain how I got from students who learn differently to the goofy hat brigade: it's about how our buildings make our students and patrons feel. If a member of the community is intimidated - for whatever reason - they are never going to come into our buildings and we won't have a chance to help them. However, if we make them laugh and show our human sides, it's going to help our patrons relax. If they are more relaxed, they'll be more likely to come in to our buildings to ask for our help... and that's where we can do our work.

We have other ideas for building the library's relationship with faculty, but I'm curious what you all are doing to build relationships with any of your stakeholders/segments of your community. And be warned: if you share your ideas here, I may end up stealing/borrowing them.


  1. Hm. I was really underprepared (for a different set of reasons) as an undergrad, and for me the library didn't represent struggle so much as...just not really anything at all, since I'd never had coursework before college that required me to use it, so I had no idea what it offered (other than books). And then since I was pretty much incapable of starting a paper earlier than 10pm the night before it was due (my underpreparedness included *awesome* study skills), I would never have had the opportunity to encounter crazy hats - I'm not sure I was actually physically in the library at a time when it was likely to be staffed by anyone other than student workers.

    Aside from study skills, my critically missing skill was *research* - I'd never written a research paper before college (which would be how I never did anything in the library), so I didn't know how. College *assigned* a bunch of them but never *taught* them, I guess assuming we'd all gone to high schools that didn't drop that ball? So for me, the place where library presence would have been most useful & welcome was in partnership with one of those freshman writing seminars I had to take (and in a redesigned version that actually taught research skills ;). Librarians could have been a really critical, welcoming component for *helping me build the skills I knew I was missing*.

    Instead the library was basically an awesome quiet place for me to do all my take-home tests. From 8 to 11pm. When there probably weren't librarians. :/

    I suspect my campus would have responded really positively to the library displaying stuff students made, though.

    1. Good point about people who don't come in until late. I'm here at night sometimes, but not regularly and almost never that late.

    2. Figuring out the best hours to have a reference presence is something I'm currently wrestling with for next semester (especially with the added complication of losing a person--the director!--between now and then). Having evening hours until 9 pm has been our practice and maintaining that is supported by our ref stats. When to staff the desk during the daytime is my current dilemma (since I'm going to have to work around as-yet-unscheduled committee meetings!).