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Current Status of Library Space

November 30, 2022

As the semester winds down, I am finally finding time to tackle my professional development “To Be Read” pile: articles, books, blog post, and even webinars are related to my librarianship, but are chronically #11 on my list of 10 things to do on any given day. One of those was from April (yikes!): an EDUCASE article by Steven Bell “Moving to Mobile: Space as a Service in the Academic Library”.

It actually ended up being a happy accident that I waited until now to read the article. It especially rang true with the changes that I have seen in student library usage during this first real “post-pandemic” semester. Fall 2022 meant a relaxation of mask mandates, and a return to normal library hours and services, but it has not meant a return to the way students used the library before March 2020. Bell’s article focuses on the use (or lack thereof) of computer labs within the library space. He saw a decrease of desktop usage, and an increase in laptop checkouts. My library is seeing a similar trend, but even our laptop checkouts have decreased. It seems one result of the pandemic is an increase in students with their own laptops. Hopefully though, with continuing concerns related to digital divides, they are not relying on smartphones or tablets as their primary devices. Bell cites a EDUCAUSE poll from November 2021, stating that most (81%) use a laptop for their primary educational device.

My institution has not done similar survey, though I would be interested to see how our numbers compare. Our desktop computers have decreased usage, and even during instruction sessions, students would rather pull out their own laptop than log onto a public machine. We have had some informal feedback that some students are making do with Chromebooks or other devices that don’t meet requirements for many of the academic technology tools they need for coursework. Also, they often would rather struggle on their smartphones when searching for resources, or trying to use our cloud printing service, then logging onto a conveniently located desktop. I am not sure the motivation behind this: perhaps they are just unaccustomed to using desktops, or are concerned about the privacy of a public machine? It would be interesting to gather more data on this as well.

Aside from desktop computer use, Bell’s article also touches on the importance of the library’s space as a service or resource for students. During the pandemic we were often one of the few “public” spaces that remained open. Policies, hours, and occupancy numbers were amended to achieve as much access to the library space as possible. These adjustments, especially limits to groups and mask mandates, were not popular with our students. Though we were open, our library saw a decrease in gate counts during the pandemic. Even with the repeal of many of the pandemic restrictions, we have yet to see a return to pre-COVID numbers.

Again, I am not sure why, though I suppose I could speculate. I wonder if the lack of visits is due to something just as simple as a lack of practice. They just do not have the muscle memory of using the library’s space for group meetings and studying (and hopefully research help). Many of these students were not on campus pre-pandemic. For their last years of high school, and first years of college, they went to class and studied from their home or dorm rooms. They did not interact in-person with the classmates so there was no need for a public space to work in. Now even with the return to in-person classes and events, maybe they are still studying and meeting elsewhere just because that is what they have always done.

It kind of feels like we are having to “sell” libraries to students all over again. The value of libraries, and their spaces, has stayed the same, but the institutional memory of the library has been lost. I am having to find ways to tempt students into the library, so they can see all the awesome spaces, and services, we have there. I also wonder if, just as student knowledge and expectations for libraries has been “reset,” whether we need to reset our assumptions on the needs students have for the library. Just another angle to consider and evaluate. We may need to reintroduce ourselves to the students on our campuses, and I suspect that getting reacquainted will be a slow process.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Alex K. permalink*
    December 2, 2022 6:26 pm

    Excellent post, I’ve noticed similar trends at my library.

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