I am a librarian who serves a population of 24. Perhaps the count is 32 if one includes faculty and staff of Florida State University International Programs Study Center in Florence, Italy. The library, as the previous Student Supervising Librarian noted last year, is almost as antiquated as the 15th century building that holds it. Nothing gives me more pleasure than unlocking wood medallioned doors with skeleton keys and opening thick shutters to let the sun shine onto parquet floors and the shelves of a 7,000 volume collection.
After Topher’s excellent post on librarian perception I have been thinking more and more of the perception of the library here. The history, with all of it’s frescoed charm, is not enough to protect the library from running into a 21st century identity crisis. I think it is a problem that many libraries, even the most modern of structures and collections, that serve populations thousands of times our size, are also facing:
What is our point and purpose in this digital age?
After two months of getting acclimated to a new country, language and job, I am now more actively monitoring what is needed by my student population. Use of the library has dropped significantly since Internet access installed in the dorms about 2 years ago. In the last months, the 2 Computer Rooms are still used for Internet access but mostly for printing; the Lounge area is a popular spot for hanging out between classes; but the stacks — full of Art, History, and Italian Culture books (and even a set of 1909 Encyclopedia) as well as a small fiction and literature section — are mostly untouched. Students, if they enter the “book room” at all, primarily use the tables to study because “it is so quiet.”
Out of our 7,000 volumes, about 25 books have been checked out over the semester. There was one day of a relative flurry of book requests because the Art History prof suggested texts for the reference requirement of his final paper. Mostly, however, students just asked for those specific books. Perhaps I should have been more proactive in showing how to use the card catalog (yes, card catalog) and sending them to the shelves themselves thus helping them discover the joy of serendipity in information seeking… but isn’t that forcing a method and education regardless of want? I doubt the teachable moment would have been appreciated. So I provided the research service as requested and book use and check-out remains small and targeted.
I provide all this detail to ask: Is “library” a misnomer now?
I think so. I find the term antiquated for what has become a Study Center. FSU has changed its former Law Library’s name to Florida State Law Research Center. I think this a a more apt and forward-thinking name that speaks to the activities that now and will take place therein.
I further ask: is the FSU Florence Program — and libraries across the US — doing themselves a disservice by holding on to the antiquated term of “library”?
A library, by any other name, still might function similarly but our mission and vision are also inexorably linked and affected by our title. If we, catalogers and specifiers of language, want to change our perception and be perceived as more than “book rooms,” do we need to change our names? Or do we continue to hold on to “library” and continue to try and change it’s meaning?
I leave the questions open and welcome your thoughts. I don’t think that a name change will revolutionize use (if only it were that easy) but rather better reflect and promote the mission and vision of the space. As it has for the past 50 years, and I hope for many years to come, fair Firenze will still be home to the Library of FSU’s International Program in Florence… but I don’t know for how much longer that name will — and should — remain above the door.
What are your thoughts about library perception and rebranding?