Humor me and grab a piece of paper, a pencil, or since you are probably reading this on a device that has a word processing function of some sort, pull up a blank sheet and answer this question: What is a library and what does it mean for me?
This has been a question dwelling on my mind for the last two years and I have finally realized how to find the answer. One person cannot accurately define what a library is on their own, especially when this library is serving hundreds of patrons that all approach the library for different reasons, different needs, and with different beliefs and opinions. In order to truly understand what a library is, we have to come together as a community, share our experiences with the library, and let those experiences and interactions define it. What an odd way to have to define something. Then again, this college is built around its campus community, everything about this college is defined by its community, so maybe it's just natural that this library should be approached with the same criteria. Nevertheless I really wanted to understand what this library means for E&H and with that goal in mind, I had a handful of questions and a few colleagues that I needed to share them with. I needed their opinions. Their experiences. Their knowledge.
So, I asked my fellow colleagues the above question and also included a few additional questions. I was curious. I want to know what the library means for them, why they chose to work in the library, and what they believe the library has, and can, offer the rest of the E&H Community and, for that matter, the rest of the world. Including my own evolving interpretations of the library and my experiences using and providing library service, alongside the responses from my co-workers, I can share with you a more-clearer picture of what kind of library the staff at Emory & Henry strives to provide. Not only do the responses below highlight the awesome things a library is capable of, they also demonstrate that the library has become something far greater than anyone could have ever imagined.
What made you want to work in the library?
“Books. Ever since I was little, I've been a bookworm (and I propose we change this term to "bookwyrm"). I love being around books. I also love connecting with people with similar interests and helping people get what they need. Working in the library helps me accomplish both these goals on a regular basis.” -Morgan
“I worked as a Library Page during High School and College. I enjoyed the environment. After working in the corporate world for over 25 years, I wanted to make a career change.” -Missy
“I remember going to the Library as an elementary school student. I loved the perfectly straight rows of books and the fact that I could go on a new adventure (through books) every week. When I got older and went to college, I spent a lot of time in the Library, studying, reading, and people watching. (I still loved the straight rows of books!) When I found out there was a position available in the Library a few semesters ago, I was very excited. I would again have access to the many adventures books provide AND I could be responsible for creating those lovely straight rows of books!” -Christine
Why are you a librarian?
“I've worked in libraries since I was 15; started in my local public library and high school library. That's a long time--50 years! When I went to West Virginia University, the main university library was a place I gravitated toward to study and hang out between classes. There was a satellite library in my residence hall too. The librarians were nice, and talked me into taking a basic reference class my junior year. It made me start thinking of librarianship as a career. So when I was accepted in the American Library Association-approved program at the University of Kentucky, I was on my way.” -Jane
“Because I love books, libraries, and helping people.” -Jody
“Being innately curious, I needed a career where I could learn anything, instead of being stuck in one field. I have also mainly worked in fields where I helped others, being able to do this was also important.” -Rebecca
Books are a big deal to library staff, I’m sure for you the library has proved to be the perfect place to go to browse, search, and find all sources of amazing books, but there were a few other services that the library can and does provide that these responses have already alluded to: a friendly, encouraging environment, a community of other library users, and a desire to help others. Let’s look at a few more questions and responses to really dig deeper into understanding what this library is.
What does the library mean to you?
“I practically lived in the library when I was a student here. As a commuter, it was one of few places on campus where I could be productive because it has such a calm, comforting atmosphere. During that time, I utilized almost every service the library offers. Now it's my first job out of college, so I owe a lot to the library.” -Morgan
“The Library is my happy place, where I am able to greet and interact with students (and hear about their exciting projects, research, and experiences), possibly provide a little bit of help, and work on projects with an amazing and supportive team.” -Christine
How do you define the library?
“It is a gathering place for books, ideas, and people.” -Jody
“A library is a place to find and explore information and ideas.” -Ruth
“ A library is an ever-evolving universe that provides indiscriminate access to information. Unlike most institutions and places of service, the library can be almost whatever you need it to be: a hub for information, or direction to information ( this can be a how-to manual, that article you need for a paper, or direction to find more information outside the library resources). It can be a place to find entertainment (good book, movie, etc.) and a safe place to relax, study, or meet with others (back before the world went weird).” -Rebecca
Already the definition of the library is starting to expand, to transform into something much larger. It has transformed into a place to hangout, to relax, study, to gather with friends and study groups, a place to share and interact with ideas, a place to explore, to discover, and to create. This all sounds good, but as a student at E&H have you ever wondered what the staff of this college’s library is trying to provide you, what they hope the library becomes for you during your studies and time on campus? As a student, I never thought to ask this, but as an employee and soon-to-be professional librarian, I would be remiss not to ask.
What does the library mean for Emory and Henry?
“I hope we are a central place for the things I listed above. And can be a comfortable, safe space when people need it. When I was a student the library was kind of my second home.” -Jody
“The Library at Emory & Henry is an intellectual crossroads, where ideas and people from across the College can converge, connect, and cross paths.” -Ruth
“The library can mean a lot of things for Emory & Henry: a nice place to study; an amazing collection of physical and online resources; friendly librarians and support staff ready to help you use these resources; a place to just hang as a breather between classes or meetings; a collection of historical artifacts relating to the College; a place to find light, fun reading material. It's all these things and more!” -Jane
“The Emory & Henry Library is not only the place students go when they have to find those required resources for their classes. This is also where so many other types of information needs can be addressed. We are also part of the community and a place to connect to this community.” -Rebecca
“It's a great place for students to relax or get work done. It also gives them access to the tools they need to succeed in school, expand their knowledge, or even enjoy some free time. I don't think many students realize that the library also gives them access to online articles that are necessary for a lot of assignments.” -Morgan
“The Library is a safe environment to relax, study, and research. The Library houses many educational resources and Librarians that can help with your research projects.” -Missy
“The Library is an information hub for Emory & Henry. In it, students (and sometimes professors and staff) gather for the purpose of learning, working together, growing, and procuring information.” -Christine
Let’s put a big pin in each one of these terms as each one speaks volumes of what the library is and can be.
Okay, there was one more question I had to ask.
What is your favorite thing about a/the library?
“I love all kinds of libraries! 4-year college, community college, public, school libraries--makes no difference to me--I love them all! Whenever I go someplace, I like to visit the library there if at all possible. I embrace my nerdiness. One of my favorites (besides Kelly Library and my local Washington County Public Library): the public library in West Yellowstone, Montana.
“The great people I work with, and helping library users with their information needs. Also all the physical and online resources at my disposal.” -Jane
“My favorite thing about our library is the staff (as well our wonderful regulars, the graphic novel collection, and the underappreciated archives).” -Jody
“My favorite thing about the Library is when it's busy and you can feel the hum and energy of people who are all working on their own thing.” -Ruth
“My favorite thing about the Library is the calm and peaceful environment.” -Missy
“I love the students, the freedom to learn, working with a dedicated team, and, of course, those straight rows of books!” -Christine
I guess now would be a good time to add my own reflection of the library.
If you asked me two years ago, what I thought a library was, my response would have been something along the lines of: “Well, that is a building that specializes in books, all kinds of books, that anyone can borrow and read. That’s primarily what the library is, a place for books. There are also sections in the library where you can access the computer and there is a decent selection of movies to check-out, but yeah, it's really all about the books. Oh, and you have to be quiet, no talking, SHHHH!
As for the second part of the question, in describing what the library means for me, I would have responded: “Again, it's a place for books. They provide a great variety of resources for leisure reading and they have a great variety of resources for research and are quite helpful in writing research papers for school. They are places that anyone can walk into and use their resources. They are a storage place for information.
If you asked me today, what I think the library is, I wouldn’t know where to begin. There are a lot of things that the library has proven to be. Its a building providing its users with hundreds of thousands of connections to information, it provides study rooms, study carrels, and an entire floor for quiet reading, study and research purposes, while its main floor provide space for group work, collaboration, hanging out, meeting friends, sharing ideas, and yes, napping. The library is also a place to come for help, to seek guidance from trained information professionals, to share your love of information and discuss your projects with library staff, whether it is for help or to have someone to talk to (guess what, Librarians are extremely interested in your studies and the research your perform for your curriculum, we love to hear about your work and success and welcome getting to hear from you!). Did you remember that list of words we put a pin in?
Safe. Connections. Access to information. Success. A second home. I think this short list says it best.
If I can leave you with anything from this post, I hope it is this new definition, a new way of viewing your library (wherever you and that library may be):