What we really want

When I was in grad school the first time (2005-2007), I got my Master’s in Teaching English as a Second Language from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. (Man, I’ve got to find a better way to describe this period in my life… it was epic and I have lots of stories, but it’s just awkward now that I’m “going back for more” grad school torture.) I imagine this is pretty common knowledge in the library world, but in case you didn’t know, Illinois’ LIS program is consistently highly ranked (number one in 2009 by U.S. News and World Report). It also has the biggest public academic library in the country. It crossed my mind while I was at Illinois that maybe I should’ve been working on a MLIS instead of my MATESL, but hindsight’s 20/20. (I felt a little better when I discovered that Wisconsin is actually ranked just a little higher than Illinois for a specialty in School Library Media, which is my thing. On Wisconsin!)

Anyway, to get to the point, as a grad student with one of the premier academic libraries at my disposal, I wanted nothing more than to never set foot in the library at all. As I was reading Dempsey’s “Always on: Libraries in a world of permanent connectivity”, I kept thinking about how and what I used the library at the University of Illinois for.

Here were my uses:

  1. Digital reserves
  2. Online searches of academic databases of scholarly articles that I didn’t have access to outside of being a university student. (For the record, at the time, accessing the online academic article databases at Illinois was a major pain–it was really hard to remember how to “get in” and definitely not intuitive or teach-yourself. Even the librarians complained about how obtuse it was. I hope it has improved, because for my program there was no way around it.)
  3. Meeting in the physical library for group projects when we needed computer access and my TA office was awkward or crowded.
  4. The occasional hot beverage or snacks from the little coffee kiosks in the entrances while working on said group projects.

Never once did I enlist the services of a reference librarian for anything more useful than to point me to the whereabouts of whatever section of the library. Oh–I guess there were two semesters where I took my “Academic Writing for International Graduate Students” classes on a field trip there for a library tour and orientation by the reference librarian. If I needed a real book, I had the option of requesting it online and having it “routed” to me in a padded envelope and delivered directly to me to my TA mailbox/office. I think I did this twice.

I’m pretty sure that I was not alone in these feelings/habits, at least among my grad student friends. I wonder if grad student attitudes toward libraries have changed since 2007. I suspect that the perceived usefulness of an academic library to its users really depends on convenience.

On a side-note, I was really please that Dempsey mentioned marketing for libraries in his paper… in fact, in light of a scholarly conversation I had in class last week, I think I foresee a budding interest in this topic for me. I haven’t had any ah-ha! moments on the subject quite yet, but my antennas are up.