The future for academic libraries? Initial observations from my US research.

My recent research visit to the east coast of the US was informative for my Doctorate of Education thesis (on Academic library makerspaces) but also generally in how academic libraries are evolving in North America in terms of their services generally.

The two main libraries at the large university (over 35,000 students) I visited offer services in addition to the provision of ‘traditional’ library resources (eg books, journals, special collections etc)  including a variety of cross-disciplinary learning spaces and services such as:

  • Faculty Research Commons, Graduate Student Commons
  • Large-scale, immersive visualization spaces
  • Digital media creation facilities
  • Dataspace with advanced computing, software, training, and consultation
  • A Game Lab for the scholarly study and enjoyment of games and interactive workshops and demonstrations
  • iPearl Immersion Theater for the panoramic display of faculty and student work
  • Technology Lending: laptops, iPads, cameras, calculators, gaming, virtual reality tools, and more
  • Workshops and events with opportunities to learn research, technology, data science, and visualization skills
  • Copyright and Digital Scholarship Center, collaborating with scholars on open knowledge, intellectual property, and copyright issues
  • Geographic Information System services and extensive data science and visualization resources
  • A virtual reality and photogrammetry space and service

At the main library around 37,000 books and other items are on the shelves whilst 1.7 million are held in a basement warehouse served by a mechanical ‘book bot’ that retrieves relevant book boxes in a few minutes (staff are still required to fish out the relevant books from the box). In terms of the makerspace service which I was focusing on, the original makerspace in the main library is now a high end 3D printing service, and another one with a variety of technology available (eg electronics, textiles, cutting/ milling, and the ‘internet of things’ including Arduino and Raspberry Pi) has been built at the second library attracting students doing coursework and personal projects. The most active users seemed to be students and staff working on digital humanities, entrepreneurship, engineering and science projects. I collected lots of valuable data from different perspectives including students, academics and professional staff and have much to follow up on. One thing that was obvious from the start was the makerspace service (run within the academic library service, with librarians and student workers) was keen to work closely with academics to create meaningful makerspace activities and projects for particular courses. Some initial examples from my research include:

Story Cube
Story Cube
Story Cube Explanation
Story Cube Explanation
Icarus Wings
Icarus Wings

What is also apparent from my makerspace research is these new academic library spaces and services need to be situated within the specific needs of the university, so the educational interest of academics and students drives the direction of the service. With this in mind with my Brookes library hat on, I’d be very interested in any Brookes students and staff who would be willing to share with me their ideas for what they would like to see in the future from our service, whether building on existing services or creating new ones (please find my contact details below).

– Robert Curry, Associate Director of Learning Resources (Academic)

Tel:  +44 (0) 1865 484130

Have you read?

Curry, R. & Farmilo, V., (2019) A defence of subject specialism in academic librarianship‘, SCONUL Focus 71  

Curry, R., (2017) “Makerspaces: A beneficial new service for Academic Libraries?“, Library Review, Vol. 66 Issue: 4/5, doi: 10.1108/LR-09-2016-0081

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