Now that I’ve got the website up and running, I’d like to use this space for periodic updates around our library of the future project. Recognizing that not everyone who reads this is familiar with the work, allow me to give a little background on the project and where the Library of the Future Task Force landed in terms of our vision for the future. I’ll be posting more about our feasibility study (going on now!) in the coming days. But first, let me tell you about the exciting ideas put forth by the task force:
The Library of the Future Task Force began its work in spring 2019. The task force, composed of nineteen faculty, staff, and students, sought first to understand the current research, teaching, and learning practices of library users and then to articulate our vision based on these functional needs. Our intent was not to envision what the library of the future looks like, but rather to uncover what our patrons desire to do or become as members of our academic community, along with how they want to feel in the library as a place. How can the experiences we provide in the library—through our spaces, services, expertise, and resources—support library users’ scholarly, professional, and personal aspirations? How can we in the library support students in developing humane instincts and disciplined and creative minds for lives of leadership and service?
The task force report was released to the Davidson College community in February 2020, a month before the COVID-19 pandemic sent the college into an emergency remote situation. As faculty worked to quickly transition their in-person courses to online and students also adjusted to the challenges of the pandemic, the library’s teaching and learning experts worked to support the community at a scale that was previously unimaginable. As the pandemic continued, and the college announced plans to provide multiple course delivery options for Fall 2020 the library’s team of instructional designers, research librarians, and peer consultants provided ongoing professional programming, course redesign, and individualized support across disciplines. From leading course design workshops, to ensuring electronic access to the hundreds of academic resources needed for remote learning, supporting research and digital project design and creation, and creating inclusive spaces within the library for students to safely gather, study, and learn— the library’s role in student learning and faculty teaching has never felt more tangible or imperative. In October 2020, the task force released a revised summary of recommendations (see this video summary) to serve as a road map for future planning. This summary includes the following programmatic themes:
The library of the future will be the center of intellectual life at Davidson College: A truly interdisciplinary organization, the future library will actively engage students, faculty, emeriti, and staff to collaborate, explore, experiment, and grow as researchers, creators, scholars, and informed citizens. The library of the future will be the intellectual hub of the college—a collaborative, student-centered destination offering a network of specialized information resources, peer-to-peer tutoring services, foundational and emerging technologies, and the professional expertise needed for success across all disciplines. Physical spaces to support the vital (yet often unseen) services provided by the library’s staff will remain an important component of the future library. The creation of a state-of-the-art Research & Design Studio to support digital scholarship and online teaching and learning initiatives should be central to the design and programming of the reimagined space, and the expanded role of the library as a center for digital teaching and learning.
The library of the future will exemplify intellectual spaciousness: Through our conversations, we discovered the need for inclusive spaces, services, and programming that fosters collegiality, community, and the exploration and exchange of ideas at Davidson. Exhibition spaces, gathering spaces, and creative programming (such as public lectures, book talks, art shows, and literary readings) that bring community members together in dialogue across differences and encourage intellectual spaciousness will be important features of the reimagined library. The library’s diverse resources, curated to align with curricular initiatives and campus conversations, will be an important part of this work. In addition to providing shared, reservable spaces (such as an “idea salon”/cafe/ multi-use lounge area) for faculty, student, and staff gatherings, the future library will provide inclusive spaces and programming that actively integrates our faculty emeriti into the fabric of the academic community. As we support students in their preparation for lives of leadership and service, we believe that the library can serve to connect students to the greater community and beyond.
The library of the future will support all learners: The future library will facilitate cross-functional collaborations and be designed to encourage deeper partnerships between academic support services, allowing students to seamlessly consult with experts and find information and technology resources needed to help them achieve their learning goals. In addition to providing a more welcoming and connected service point, library patrons told us that they require a variety of comfortable spaces to support their research and learning needs, including quiet, solitary areas designed for study and reflection, reconfigurable spaces for small-group collaborative work, structured teaching spaces, expanded media design and production areas, and flexible open spaces to gather as a community. Library users also told us that they require better food options to provide nourishment during study sessions, especially late at night. Students were very vocal about the need for quiet, low-tech spaces, such as a silent reading room, to support deep work, contemplation, and overall wellness. This profound need for designated quiet spaces cannot be overstated, and is an essential component of all future space design recommendations.
The library of the future will provide access to well-curated collections: We also learned that many library users care deeply about the library’s collections. Physical books are highly valued by the majority of our patrons but the general collection is difficult to navigate due to the library’s 10-year history of using two classification systems. One of our top priorities, informed by focus group feedback and best practices in librarianship, is that the library will transition fully to a single and all-encompassing classification system. Library users shared that they find the general collection unfocused, cluttered, and disconnected from their academic work. A high quality collection should be well-curated. We heard a range of ideas to align the collection more closely with the curriculum and other campus programming, such as course-specific exhibits of library materials and faculty-student curation projects. To support these structural and programmatic changes around library collections, library policies will demonstrate a commitment to the management, curation, and preservation of information in traditional as well as emergent forms. In addition to innovations in the ways in which we highlight intersections between the print collection and the needs and interests of the college community, the library of the future will provide convenient access to print materials while facilitating the full range of resources that library users seek out within the physical library. Users suggested a range of potential solutions that would provide access to a well-curated, browsable collection while allowing for more of the library’s physical space to be used for purposes other than housing print materials, such as the use of compact shelving, off-site storage for lesser used materials, and participation in shared resource collaboratives (e.g. HathiTrust: A federation of academic libraries that preserves and digitizes print materials and maintains a digital archive with access available to all for works in the public domain, and to member libraries for copyright restricted material, which Davidson College is now a member).
The library of the future will prioritize and showcase our distinctive collections: On the specific topic of Archives & Special Collections (ASC), we heard overwhelmingly from our faculty and students that engaging with rare books, artifacts, and other unique materials is critical to the liberal arts experience, but current space constraints, inadequate storage, lack of security, and poor environmental control make it difficult for ASC experts to keep up with teaching and learning demands. Recommendations from our faculty include a centrally housed Archives & Special Collections, with expanded classroom, reading room, and exhibit space, to make the activities and collections more accessible and welcoming. In collaboration with students and faculty, we will develop clearly defined curation and preservation strategies that will better reflect the full range of cultural and social diversity and support historically marginalized communities. Librarians and archivists will work closely with faculty to support an understanding of the histories and development of print culture and showcase Davidson’s distinctive collections which reflect both institutional and disciplinary priorities and scholarship.
The library of the future will engage crucially with the past to understand our present and inform our future: The College’s Commission on Race and Slavery report, released August 2020, asks the community to search for truth in “building a comprehensive understanding of the college’s own history, which is intertwined with the institution and legacies of slavery and enslaved person.” Library professionals have an important role in this search for truth. This role includes but it not limited to the development of research projects investigating and acknowledging the college’s history with slavery and race, the creation of educational exhibitions and websites, and the curation of public programs, development of collections, or work with community partners. As we consider the future of the library, the Library of the Future Task Force proposes a designated space within the library that can serve as a forum for research and teaching on the history of race and slavery at Davidson. This interdisciplinary space will gather and provide access to relevant archival and contemporary resources, local historical materials and genealogical references, and faculty and student scholarship related to race and slavery. Of equal importance, this space will provide a venue for expertise from public historians and archivists, community programming, and physical and digital exhibitions.
The library of the future will inspire: From our engagement sessions–we learned that library patrons most want to feel inspired by the library’s spaces, services, and resources. Over and over again, we heard that library patrons desire a beautiful, inclusive, accessible, and sustainable library that inspires learners across all disciplines. And although “beauty” is in the eye of the beholder in regards to furnishings and design, the community members we spoke with agreed that the library should be filled with art, sunlight, greenery, and it should reflect the natural surroundings of our region. We learned that library patrons desire inspirational outdoor spaces (many patrons shared ideas to reimagine the library’s rooftop space) for study and social events. Sustainability practices and processes were often mentioned as an inspirational component to the success of our future library, and important to the recruitment of students who share Davidson’s institutional values.
As 21st century research, teaching, and learning practices continue to evolve, so must the spaces, services, and resources required to support our students, faculty, and staff. The design of the future library—community spaces, teaching spaces, physical and digital exhibit spaces, research and reading spaces, spaces for preservation of historical materials, and communal spaces—will be guided by our commitment to the building of a more inclusive, just, safe, and humane future.
In my next post, I’ll share more on the feasibility study and introduce you to the design firm selected for this important phase of the project. Stay tuned!