What a Library Is; What a Library Means

Quite frequently I see students in the library doing–how should I put this?–non-academic activities. Sleeping is the most common one, and also various online hobbies such as playing WoW (or CoH or other MMORPGs), watching videos (I actually saw a student watching the 1984 television version of the Legend of the Condor Heroes once, which made me almost weep with nostalgia), browsing Facebook and other social media websites. The one activity I have to swoop in and stop is eating, as food, including crumbs, stains and leftovers, will attract pests, not to mention introduce unpleasant odours.

While noticing all these extra-curricular activities, I sometimes wonder how students view the library nowadays. Reams of articles, surveys and data have been generated in the library science field on the perception of the library by its users, and I don’t think anyone has definitively come up with an answer. There is usually a gap between what the user of the library wants and needs, and what the library offers. Filling this gap takes resources and we may not always get it right.

The library as a physical space has become increasingly irrelevant for learning and research, as entire fields of information, such as company financials, statistics, indexes and industry data are moving online. However, the library as an entity has become increasingly important–and paradoxically more invisible–as electronic resources need to be reviewed, subscribed to, organized, and presented to users in a meaningful and accessible form. Users may see the “graceful swan”, which is easy access to information they need. Alas, they may overlook all the hard pedaling the swan needs to do under the surface.

So, while I do not worry that the library as a space is taken up by users for leisure activities, I do worry that users do not see and so hence do not value, the fact that librarians work tirelessly to obtain and proffer information that would otherwise be locked away and made available only at a prohibitive cost. So use the e-resources while you have them, students; once you graduate, all the easily accessible articles, statistics, company reports and other online information will be closed to you!

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