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Monday, September 23, 2013

The importance of the modern library



Friday we took a tour of the Georgia Tech campus as my daughter went for a college day. While my son is already a freshman there, this is my daughter's time and her decision. As we went through the library I was struck by the difference from twenty years a go.

This area of the library used to be tables where we had group study sessions. A study group of 4 of us met three days a week at 7pm here as we worked through freshman calculus together. Now it is all computers. Many of them - as you can see, have double monitors.

There's a place on the back wall that shows where open computers are, but there are likely a hundred or so in this brightly lit atrium area. Interestingly, every incoming student is required to have a computer, but this is a place to go to work for serious business.

We still need desktop computers

There is still a place in our academic world for desktop computers- even when we have laptops. A place to sit still with our work. While Iike to draft with my laptop sitting in my chair in the den (I feel more creative there) when I get down to work, it is in the office on my trusty Lenovo m90z touchscreen with the huge screen and ergonomically correct desk chair.

A space to work, a place to work

An ergonomically big "place to work" is still needed. I did like how the computers were not slammed right up against each other but included a place to spread out papers, books, etc.

Of course many of these students were dealing with CAD drawings and writing programs, but I have programmers in my classroom too. My student with the Raspberry Pi computer hooks it up to the big monitor in my room and uses the wireless dongle to use the big keyboard, etc. as he programs this tiny $35 motherboard. Just the workspace gives him room to think. A large screenspace is important when researching, working, and creating.

Just because everyone has laptops doesn't mean you don't need pumped up workstations - especially if we're doing the kind of STEAM work we need to be with students.

We still need a quiet cubicle

But where I got really jealous was when they mentioned the third through fifth floors -- full of quiet cubicles, this is where you go to be alone and get work done.

You can't see a reflection upon choppy water. It is often when things get very still and quiet, that we can start reflecting upon things around us and dive deep into thought.

The tyranny of noise surrounds us. If we're at school - the voices and distractions and general hubbub make it a challenge to focus. If we're at home - the phone ringing and countless things to handle.

I remembered the days - becoming more distant now - when I'd find a quiet cubicle on the fifth floor of the Georgia Tech library where I could be left alone for hours to "get work done." And man, could I get some work done. Time flowed like water through a fountain as I let it flow until the job was done. I started rethinking my own office envious of the serenity of those cubicles.

Libraries are vital

Libraries are important places. We have more diverse needs than ever upon these common spaces: computers, quiet places, teaching commons areas, workrooms for groups, cocoons for reading, places to check out digital creation equipment, maker spaces, places for conversations with a book club and more I'm probably forgetting now. We need more libraries with TV studios/ green screens and quiet rooms to record audio. We need more space, not less.

Our libaries are important. Every time I hear of another one being cut, I ponder the short sightedness of people that don't understand the increasing importance of good teaching librarians, digital resources, and learning commons. When a person closes a library, it is most often due to lack of vision not lack of need that it happens. Many just don't get what libraries should be besides a place to hold books.

Walter Cronkite said it best:

"Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation."

 

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