Saturday, 9 July 2011

Library within the library

Easter term's Brown Bag lunch discussed this article (p.56-65) and the concept of separate libraries combining to make a new form of institution.  The libraries in question were the State University of San Jose and the San Jose Main Public Library and they opened together as the Dr Martin Luther King Jr. Library in August 2003.  As Becky pointed out, the article was written by an academic librarian at the library and so her view may be slightly biased, although perhaps it will be more insightful.

Dr Martin Luther King Jr Library entrance

Biggar High
I was particularly interested in this discussion since my local library merged with the local school library to create a joint council-run venture.  What is strange, however, is that there is a glass wall partitioning the school area from the public area.  This may, of course, be necessary for the protection of the children (or perhaps the public going by some lunchtime school children's behaviour).   Biggar library and Biggar High School both have the same librarians and the customers can choose from the same stock.  This appears to be a similar set-up to elsewhere in the country and must stem from the council-based funding.

In San Jose, however, there is more integration and the library actually has an entrance facing the city and an entrance facing the university.  This, no doubt, is to increase inclusion, an issue raised when we considered how this format would be received in Cambridge.  We felt that there may be a Town vs. Gown issue as there tends to be.

We touched on several interesting points such as the importance of the geographical positioning of a joint library and whether that could affect the users.  We also considered the benefit of having the specialism of an academic library together with a more general public library since many books can be too general for academia but too specialised for public use and so would fit perfectly in this amalgamated service.  The funding structure may prove an issue here, however.

I was particularly interested in the point that funding may be more readily available for an institution labelling itself as 'Higher Education' rather than 'Public Library.'  Depending on regional councils and their structure, libraries can lose out on funding due to their educational counterparts and so this joint approach may prevent such issues.

Info desk
 Jenny came up with an important point: the differences between public and academic staff.  We tend to choose between the two fields and mostly stick to our choice.  So, what is it like combining the two at a general info desk?  The clientèle, types of questions, variety of questions and level of detail expected in the answers would all be different to what the librarians were used to.

The conversation led onto the accessibility of libraries in Cambridge and whether they are open to members of the public or merely accessible for members of the university.  This is particularly topical at John's since we are currently in the middle of the first of two Quincentenary weeks and have hundreds of alumni swarming all over the college.  They are managing to find their way into all nooks and crannies of the library and they are very welcome but it is somewhat of a shock to the system for me since I am used to trying to keep the library free of non-students.

I feel that I have written way more than enough on this subject and I still haven't covered all that was discussed.  It really was most interesting, especially since there were librarians present from all kinds of libraries and backgrounds all with their own individual take on the issues.

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