Your Rental Dog Is Now Overdue: The Library as Physical Place

This morning I read two articles that got me thinking about the role of the academic library today, both in terms of its physical space and the services it can/should provide. The first article is written by our own president, Joseph Aoun, and it appeared today in the Chronicle of Higher Education online: “Learning Today: The Lasting Value of Place.” President Aoun posits that despite the increasing role that online learning plays in higher education, the experiences we have on a physical campus cannot be replicated online. I couldn’t agree more — something that has been coming up in the “library literature” for at least a decade is the concept of how libraries can remain at the heart of campus when their physical presence seems to matter less and less. When I look around Snell Library and see every seat at every table filled, students practicing their American Sign Language together, and users getting help at the Research Assistance desk, I think exactly what President Aoun writes, that “the range of human interactions inherent in place-based education [cannot] be fully replicated in a virtual environment.” The second article I read has to do with libraries expanding their services beyond what many would consider traditional and maybe even appropriate. Perhaps you read a couple of months ago that the Yale Law Library was piloting a program in which students could “check out” a therapy dog for a half-hour session of stress relief. Now, Cornell University has started a bike rental program through its library, called Big Red Bikes. What do you think about libraries getting into the business of bike rentals and dog borrowing? Is it too far from the academic mission of a university library, or is it a clever idea to keep libraries centered in the physical campus? Phil Davis, a Ph.D. candidate at Cornell who writes on the blog Scholarly Kitchen, feels that these services “start diluting the brand of the academic library” (“Bike Sharing Comes to the Academic Library“). But we’ve been there before: perhaps you recall when Snell Library opened the Cyber Cafe 10 years ago — at the time, it was kind of an outrageous concept… serving food and drinks, in the library? Quelle horreur! But now it seems like no big deal. Ten years from now, will we happily embrace the concept of an academic library whose services include dogs, bikes, and beyond? Whether or not this catches on as a mainstream trend, one thing I know is that libraries, physical and digital, will still be found at the heart of their campuses.

1 thought on “Your Rental Dog Is Now Overdue: The Library as Physical Place”

  1. I don’t have a problem with libraries branching out into bike checkouts, dog checkouts, etc. If our mission is to serve our users, and our users would benefit from these services, then why not? It helps create goodwill, and as a result they will be more likely to seek help from the library for their information needs as well when the time comes, if they feel that the library is a friendly and welcoming place that addresses their (various) needs.

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