Note: My apologies in advance for sporadic comment moderating for a few days.
For various reasons related to a complicated weekend schedule and other activities the rest of the week, my daughter and I ended up at a university library on a Friday night not long ago so that she could get some books for a school research project. Her teachers require that students extract some information from books (the physical kind or electronic equivalents), in addition to some fact-mining from encyclopedias and assorted websources. On this particular Friday night, we set out in search of physical books.
I do go the library from time to time and I do work some Friday nights (but not in the library). Even so, it had been a while since I went to the library on a Friday night.
I brought my laptop and parked myself in a central area to do a bit of work whilst my daughter foraged in the nearby book-filled aisles.
Before we set out on our library expedition, I had several questions:
1. Would there be anyone else at the library on a Friday night early in the academic year?
2. If so, who?
3. Would there be any books published in the 21st century in the library stacks?
2. There were students at the library that Friday night. There were student study groups, there were individuals poring over texts and taking notes, there were students using computers, and there were students snoozing in comfy chairs. The library was quite well populated given the day and time.
In fact, it was so well populated that I found it difficult to work given the number of distractions, including loud music leaking out of the ear pods of nearby studiers. Memo to me: If you ever work in the library again, bring noise canceling headphones and/or your own music.
3. Re. book vintage: the books my daughter found were all quite ancient. I know there are 21st century books at the library, but these were few and far between in the part of the library we visited that night. All the books my daughter checked out were published between 1950-1992. Her particular research topic can be approached with aged sources, so this was not a problem, but I hate for her to think that books = old information, internet sources = new information.
This term, I happen to be teaching a course that requires my students to go to a campus library and use library resources. I teach this course or one like it every ~2 years or so, and over time there has been greater and greater resistance by students to making a trek to the actual library building and going to the immense effort of reading physical books. You would think that I was asking the students to walk 12 miles in the cold and rain to read stone tablets with barely decipherable etchings.
Although I don't feel too much sympathy about this issue, I do know that students have complex and busy lives, so I have done quite a lot to reduce the number of library trips required. For texts that we use a lot, I lend books to the students (I have been acquiring used copies and the class is small enough for me to provide these books to everyone) and/or I provide photocopies of relevant pages/chapters and/or put pdf files on a secure website. Some books are complete enough on GoogleBooks to allow online reading of the relevant chapters.
At the beginning of this term, I was gearing up for the usual, if not increased, resistance by students to the library visit requirement and found.. none. Absolutely none. All the students have done all the library reading every week without a single complaint.
Do I just happen to be lucky enough to have an amazing class of polite and motivated students or has a trip to the library become a nice change of pace from sitting in front of a computer and reading from the screen? Or both?
My recent Friday night visit to the library showed me that students are spending time in the library as a convenient and quiet place to study or to meet other students for group discussions. This was a very heartwarming revelation for me and made me feel much more positive about the library-visit requirements in my own classes.
12 years ago