04 June 2012

A House of Books

One of the most common descriptions I've heard of a "library" this past year is that it is a "house of books". This description never ceases to annoy me. It's like when people say that because I'm a librarian I must love to read...stereotypes drive me crazy! Although, I have learned to be a lot more patient with people's assumptions and simply explain my version of librarianship. Because, to me, a library is about so much more than books. It's about information and community and connections and teaching and research and learning. Not just books.

But, of course, there is a physical space associated with libraries, most of the time. And when I was in graduate school, I took a class entitled 'Library Buildings'. It was a great class offered by a professor who has spent years as a library building consultant on library construction projects. It was fascinating to learn about things like: the best places to put computers, lights, books, etc. I mean, who knew, it can actually make a difference where you put books and tables?

I've discovered that it does, indeed, make a difference. Here are a few examples I've (re)discovered since moving to Uganda...some we talked about in class and some we did not:
  • Building a library next to a dirt road is not a good idea. Unless you want to spend time every day clearing fine, red dust from all the books and tables.
  • Concrete floors might not be the best for sound reduction but they sure are easy to clean.
  • Inverters are a good option for when the power goes out at night. If you can afford one.
  • If your desk is in public space it will be exactly that: public. (We talked about this in class...Fred Schlipf was so right! My circ/ref/cataloging/everything desk is incredibly public...no private space here!)
  • Lighting really does make a difference. For example, make sure your lights are actually above the tables where people work. Otherwise you get weird shadows.
  • Keep public computers within sight. Otherwise you never know what kinds of things people are getting into. Or downloading.
  • Having small rooms for group work (with glass doors!) is definitely ideal. Because having a one room library creates tension between the group-studiers and the silent-studiers. You can't win.
  • Outlets should not be place directly beneath windows that are often left wide open.
At any rate, these physical considerations are important (and sometimes humorous) and a library may be a house of books. But more importantly, I believe a library is a center for learning. And hopefully a place to build community. So, I suppose a library is a little bit of both...the physical space, i.e. the house of books, but also the community and learning that take place within the house. And I'm still learning how to bring them both together.


  1. I just found your blog while researching about possibly working at a library, and I love it! Thanks for all of the great information :)


  2. Hi Andrea,

    Thanks for your kind words and for saying hi! :) I love sharing my experiences here in Uganda!