Libraries, the universe and everything

A very different kind of library
June 5, 2013, 19:51
Filed under: Libraries | Tags: , , ,

On Tuesday April 16th I took part in a NY librarians meet-up group visit to the Information Commons at NCC CUNY. The college itself is taking an innovative approach to education, and the library has been set up along similarly fresh and exciting lines.
The Chief Librarian, Vee Herrington, is also the college Director of Academic Technologies. She arrived at the college last summer, just two months before the first cohort of students, and was tasked with setting up the library collection and study space before courses began. This was clearly a huge challenge, but Vee succeeded and the space rapidly became extremely popular with the students.

Perhaps the most obvious visual difference to a regular academic library is the lack of books. There are shelves around the walls, and a handful of books sit on some of them, but most of the resources are electronic. The few books which are purchased are those deemed absolutely necessary by the course tutors and the idea is that this continues, with the collection maxing out in the low thousands.

Modular, rearrangeable furniture is key, so the space can be organised in a variety of ways, and a lot of technology is incorporated. A couple of areas where members of a group can all plug in their laptops and collaborate on a single display screen are very well-used.

Students are encouraged to use the space in whatever way suits them – they are allowed to bring in food and drink, and to chat as much as they like. Whilst it does get used as a hang-out, it is also clear that many of them do come in to work – apparently quite often groups will arrive after their classes, mess around for a while over snacks, and then settle down to study.

This bold approach to library services also reflects the innovative way the college itself is organised.  The year’s intake is divided into 4 class groups, and the curriculum is based around real-world city life, so for example statistics are taught through making observations about traffic figures, or whatever. (I won’t try to comment on this as I have no real idea how colleges operate in America, other than to say that it all sounded great, and they have an above-average student retention rate.)

Vee made the point that it’s much easier to innovate when setting up a new library as you don’t have a status quo to manage, and this really stood out for me. Certainly all the academic libraries I used as a student were all about the books, and e-resources were offered more as an add-on than as something to be taken seriously. That said, several years have passed since I completed my last degree and I’m sure things are different now (in some universities, at least). To illustrate the problem, even though I’m all in favour of e-resources, and would be perfectly happy (I think) studying in an e-only environment in future, I would balk at the suggestion of chucking out all the lovely old books I used to work with.

This was a fascinating visit, and I’m grateful to Vee and to the NY librarians meet-up group for organising it. Whilst I still believe there’s a place in the world for printed books, I suspect that the NCC CUNY Information Commons is very much a blueprint for the libraries of the future, and that’s a rather exciting prospect.


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[…] the group visit to the NCC CUNY Information Commons back in April, I really appreciated the opportunity to peek into these collections – I love […]


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