Libraries: Keeping It Real


I was at MIT a few days ago and had the opportunity to participate in Erik Brynjolfsson‘s class at Sloan School of Management. It was a fun class.  We discussed the early days of SSRN, bundled services, and electronic resources in general. During the conversation, I asked the MBA students if they knew where the library was and received many blank stares.  Maybe it was because MIT has a a lot of them, but more likely it was the fact that students’ relationships with their library has changed.

While the gap between students and stacks continues to grow, several libraries are building bridges. Personal Librarian Programs are being rolled out by a small number of universities across the country, including Drexel University and Yale. Essentially, these programs assign incoming students a personal librarian to serve as a direct access point in the library.  I haven’t looked at it from a cost perspective but from a customer service perspective, I think it is great.

Today, many of us understand and appreciate the overwhelming abundance of information available at our fingertips.  There is too much content to consume and crucial educational resources can get lost in the pile.  Librarians have a wealth of knowledge and specifically know:

• How to research & evaluate content
• How to use different resources for different purposes
• How to determine validity and appropriation
• How to think critically

Several months ago I spoke with Susan Gibbons, a forward-thinking librarian from the University of Rochester. She understands the challenge and provided some insight into how she has been able to enrich and simplify students’ experience at the UR library.  One idea that stuck with me was noting the library’s front desk phone numbers at the end of each stack, allowing students to get help immediately.

In addition to valuing libraries by their resources, Susan explained that important learning functions like camaraderie and group work are also fostered by the library structure.  Building learning communities is one of a library’s most important core missions.

For Susan’s view of the future, watch the video below:

Earlier in the day at MIT I had a conversation with a librarian and asked if students knew where to find the library. She replied, “Of course they know where it is, that’s where they go to sleep in between classes.”

I hope the Personal Librarian Programs and other initiatives are a success.  Students need to learn how to manage the overabundance of information today and it would be a shame for them to spend more time with their eyes closed than open in the library …