Playing Tourist in Libraries

If you read my last post, you know I went on a study abroad trip to the Netherlands with my MLIS program. I also traveled on my own for fun; and my visits to libraries did not stop after the study abroad program ended. Although I did not get tours and lectures like the program provided, walking around other libraries and talking to library staff was still very informative and interesting. Wherever and whenever you travel (the next town over or internationally) making a stop into an academic, public, special library, or even an archive has its benefits – and they are usually free visits to add to your travel list!

Dokk1 in Aarhus, Denmark
Video game area in Dokk1

Playing tourist in libraries is not uncommon or something isolated to MLIS students either, as Library Planet shows. If you are traveling with someone else who may be less enthusiastic about visiting libraries, showing them this website and photos of the library you want to visit may make them more enthusiastic to accompany you. Libraries are also beginning to embrace being tourist attractions, giving tours (be sure to check ahead of time so you don’t miss one due to poor planning – I did not do this and really regret it), having informational and interactive displays geared towards travelers, and providing city maps, etc.

Visit to Calgary Central Library during a 7 hour layover in Calgary, Alberta

For those of us currently enrolled in library school, classes can become tedious and we may wonder if working in libraries is really what we want. Going into a library and seeing all the people utilizing library services and space is a great reminder of why we want to work in libraries. Among articles and even family members questioning why we would spend so much time and money getting this degree to work in institutions that are obsolete, a visit to a library proves their claims so wrong. This is even more easily seen as libraries move their focus away from physical collections and are reconfiguring space so people have more of a reason to stay in the library.

Playing tourist in other cities’ libraries also allows you to get a feel for what kind of library and community you want to work in. Do you like the busyness of central libraries in a metropolitan area? Or is an older academic library more your cup of tea? This is especially helpful if you are uncertain about what kind of library you want to work in.

The Black Diamond, part of the Royal Library in Copenhagen, Denmark. Also home to the National Photography Museum

Visiting libraries is also such a great learning experience both about library in general and the specific place you are visiting. The different libraries can give you specific new ideas of what libraries can do and provide and they can also challenge your idea of what libraries are. Many of the libraries I visited have reduced their physical book collections, which allows them to focus on other aspects of library values and goals.

Although traveling alone, you are still an MLIS student, and as you have probably learned, people who work in libraries tend to be friendly and happy to meet students. Be sure to mention you are a student if you get the chance to talk to staff about the library. You can ask general questions about circulation, the kinds of patrons the library serves, their favorite part about working in their library, and you can ask about specific things you see in the library from programming, displays, exhibits, spaces, or other services. I saw at least a few interesting things in each library I visited, things I could one day bring to any library I work in. Several of the libraries I visited also had displays or exhibits teaching about the local area where I got to learn a little more about the place I was visiting. Visiting many libraries over time can also help you identify trends and developments within libraries.

The Halifax Central Library
Tantallon Public Library, part of Halifax Public Libraries. Located in a strip mall.

If you plan in advance to visit a library and know something about the work they are doing either through reading about them in class or doing some research beforehand, you can reach out by email to one of the librarians for a tour and/or informational interview. I have done this once and the librarians I talked with were very kind and provided interesting information.

Alderney Gate Public Library, part of Halifax Public Libraries. I met with two librarians here who have done and continue to do incredible community engagement work

Have you visited any remarkable libraries? What made them remarkable? Are there any libraries on your travel bucket list? Why? Share in the comments!


Hanna Roseen is a first year residential MLIS student at the University of Washington with an interest in public librarianship and archives. She just completed a study abroad program examining how innovation works in library, information, archive, and museum services, practices, and designs in the Netherlands. Read about her shenanigans and learning here

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