I journeyed along the academic library path in this week’s choose your own adventure and I lived to tell the tale. In fact, for me, it was much more exciting than I had anticipated! I had an unexpected “Whoa!” moment that really changed my thinking about the concepts of space in the academic library, how space is defined, and who that space is for. The moment occurred while reading Brian Mathews’ (2015) The Evolving & Expanding Service Landscape Across Academic Libraries. Mathews prefaces his discussion by saying that while reference transactions are in decline, libraries are still quite busy. Over the years, more and more niche centers/rooms/spaces have popped up (GIS labs, makerspaces, etc) and that is all well and good, but the spaces that are perhaps the most exciting are the ones that have the flexibility to be anything we want them to be. Blank canvas spaces. Mathews (2015) explains,”There seems to be another type of service layer emerging. I think of it as pop-up boutiques or highly specialized services that appear temporary to offer very personalized help. . . . Basically bringing in services from around campus and giving them a temporary outpost.”
My “Whoa!” moment was this: Despite working in an academic library with several areas of common/collaborative space, I’ve never considered the actual space we provide our patrons to be part of the SERVICES we offer. I had put spaces like learning commons into a figurative box labeled “For Students Only.” But, clearly I’ve been missing the bigger picture and did not make the connection that flexible spaces are for us all. The flexible nature of the space is a service, just as our reference desk offers reference services.
Having flexible spaces and tools for student collaboration is wonderful, but it never occurred to me that we could also use that space to develop and offer new services. In this respect, the possibilities are limitless and so exciting. A blank canvas space in the hands of librarians, other educators, or even other professionals offering their guidance, as Mathews mentions, is a powerful customer service and community outreach tool customizable to what our patrons need at that time. The idea of pop-up services themselves are compelling but what really interests me are the opportunities flexible spaces provide for librarians/library staff to exercise creativity, experiment, and try out new ideas. In this sense, as Mathews explains, “we can greatly expand how the library enables people to interact and the questions they can ask.” Being able to make that space into whatever we need it to be for our students opens new doors for both parties, creating an environment where we can help in ways we weren’t able to before because of space limitations. While on campus, academic library space is one of the major elements that strengthens the hyperlink between librarians and our students; flexible learning environments make this link even stronger.