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Library as a Classroom: Messiness

“What’s this say?” One of my co-workers calls out as I’m about to exit the office. I turn around, walk back in and look at where their finger is pointing, at one of my notes: “Patient sleeping.” “Oh, I thought it said ‘Politely Sheeping’.” “My doctor’s handwriting” they call it. At work, I’m usually in a rush so I scribble down my notes. Same goes for class. Usually I’m sitting there with the reading and my notebook open, trying to make my motor skills match my reading skills. Sometimes I’ll use shorthand—a smorgasbord of my own lines with my own meanings—to try to keep up. For example, “c~~~~~” is “collection” in my Collection Development notes. Notes are also generally all over the page, wherever I can fit writing. If I’m interviewing someone or getting quick info, I’ll start somewhere, run out of room, move to the middle, etc. Later, I remember the path of the conversation and am able to make some sense out of it.

Photo of a notebook, laptop, set of keys, iPad.
My messy work/study area

TLDR: I’m messy.

As a result, the articles within the Library as a Classroom module that stood out to me were Block’s “Embracing Messy Learning.” Reading this article had me thinking about the messiness of learning. Reading Bookey’s “8 Awesome Ways Libraries Are Making Learning Fun” and Mathews’ “Curating Learning Experiences: A Role for Future Librarians?” afterwards helped me think about this in the context of libraries. “Embracing Messy Learning” emphasizes the importance of the “messy” part of a project. This quote stood out to me: “If I don’t allow learning to be messy, I eliminate authentic experiences for students as thinkers and creators. I find it important to regularly remind myself that frustration leads to insights and that learning is not necessarily the equivalent of mastery.” This has been my experience as well. So often I’m obsessed with perfectionism at the early stages of either a creative or educational endeavor that the project will flounder, stop entirely, or depend on that age old fallback—a frantic and sometimes last-minute rush to finish it. I’ve come to realize that the first draft will always be messy, the outline will only make sense to myself, only I can read this handwriting. Embracing that is difficult because growing up I was taught “do it right the first time” which works for cleaning and chores, but not for learning.

Messy notes
Messy Notes

In the context of libraries, embracing messy learning should be practiced. Usually in pop culture we have an artist, a student, a mad scientist at a desk surrounded by a slew of papers, drafts, art—libraries are no different. Libraries should foster areas were learning can be messy, play is encouraged, ideas fleshed out over time. To go back to my messy notes and terrible handwriting, my notes are the beginning stages of my assignments, my writings.

This led me to think about some of the projects in Bookey’s article “8 Awesome Ways Libraries Are Making Learning Fun.” Most of the projects described depend on creativity and engagement, along with some level of messiness. Cleveland Public Library’s ArtLab began because one of the unused storage rooms had a sink in it. Even Skokie Public Library’s program, talking about issues of race, has an element of messiness to it as new thoughts, concepts, ideas that we haven’t thought of can be messy at first but become developed and articulated as we think about them. Providing these spaces for creative and thoughtful reflection in libraries is important.

The last article that links with all this is “Curating Learning Experiences.” Not so much in the actual events of the article (a librarian purchases a premium WordPress theme), but the bigger idea of collecting any material that facilitates and encourages learning, even in a virtual space. He asks “Where does this fit in?” Which to me expresses the messiness of collecting these materials. How do we catalog premium WordPress themes? How would we catalog an app that could be used for an event or program? Where do these fit in? In thinking about all this, librarians should be curating, encouraging, providing the space (both physically and intellectually) for messiness. This isn’t advocating messy stacks, disorganized books, a badly designed webspace, but in terms of individual and group learning, messiness should be embraced in libraries, from specialized research to art to children’s programming. It has a place in the library.

New Horizons: IoT, NMC Report

I wanted this week to talk about two things: the Internet of Things and the 2017 NMC Horizon Report. Both of these are in relation to academic libraries.

“Alexa, Set a Timer”

Last Christmas, our family, like so many others, received an Alexa, bundled with a smart doorbell. The kids immediately began asking questions: “Why is the sky blue?” “What do you think about Siri?” “Who’s the richest person in the world?” After the initial excitement, we found ourselves wondering what we could do. After buying some upgrades, we connected our doorbell, house locks, lights, thermostat, and a smart plug so we could easily turn off the TV in the other room. I have to say it’s amazing being able to say “Alexa, set the thermostat to 68 degrees” on a cold day without leaving the bed is great.

Alexa routine setting for “Intruder Alert”

 Aside from all this, we’re aware of the privacy issues of this, and we had read about Alexa recording conversations (and sending them to a random contact!), but it wasn’t until I read Wojtek Borowicz’s 2014 article “Why the Internet of Things Narrative Has to Change” that I really thought about what these companies are collecting—“data, generated by billions of devices around the world, finally providing digital world with enough real world context.” And as Stacey Higginbotham mentions in this article, this has all sorts of thoughts behind it. It can seem like a double-edge blade sometimes. In relating this to libraries, privacy is a core ethic for librarianship. In many articles I’ve read the core trade-off for Smart Things is privacy for convenience. While I enjoy the idea of thinking of a library full of Smart Things and the convenience the can come with it (I imagine using it to initiate closing procedures for the library), I realize we may be sacrificing or compromising our key ethics by implementing them. What is Alexa listening to? How is that data going to be used? How susceptible to hackers is it? These are things to think about.

The 2017 NMC Horizon Report

In fall of 2017 I witnessed some of the changes mentioned in the NMC Horizon Report at my undergrad academic library. The most obvious change was the repurposing of the first and second floor. These floors were modified for specialized student study areas. For the first floor they introduced circular library pods, which are sound insulated circular areas for quiet reading or studying.

Virtual Tour of the Walter W. Stiern Library

On the second floor they introduced more collaborative spaces. Glass paneled group areas with whiteboards for students to work on projects. Along the walls of the second floor, café style seating areas allow for studying with a friend or two. Easily movable seats are placed around small coffee tables for conversation or group studying. Downstairs, students have 24 hour access to a 24 hour study room which is separate from the library, but still accessible from the basement of the library and via an outside door with a student ID reader. All of these features utilize Rethinking Library Spaces. These study areas are adapted to the changing needs of students. They may need to cram the night before and need a distraction-free space. Or they may need to sit in a quiet area and enjoy a good book. Or they may want to sit with their friends and have a discussion about something they watched or read. Or work planning  a big project. Library spaces are important as student’s needs change.

Photo of the library pods and CSUB’s Walter Stiern Library (Source)

Another implementation the library implemented is a “book paging system.” With this program, students can search for a book in the catalog, request it, and have it delivered to the reference desk within a couple hours for easy pickup. I instantly thought “Oh, it’s sort of like that Target pick up!” (Or any retailer nowadays!).

It was interesting to notice these changes related in the NMC Trends. More than that, it really illustrated that some academic libraries are on track to remaining relevant in these times.

Hyperlinked Academic Libraries–Curiosity and Trends

This week I read about hyperlinked academic libraries. The articles that stood out to me were Deitering and Rempel’s “Sparking Curiosity—Librarian’s Role in Encouraging Exploration” and Catalano, Glasser, Caniano, Caniano, and Paretta’s study of 21st century trends in academic libraries. The first article stood out because research is an area that I’m interested in—that it starts in these lower division classes, with research papers, is something I hadn’t actively thought about. Catalano et al.’s article caught my attention as well because it provided me with some context regarding these trends in academic libraries and because I recently read an article in The Atlantic. I’ll write about the Deitering and Rempel’s article first.

It had never occurred to me as a library student that students tend to write about the same “easy” topics. Reading this article triggered a memory of my own, taking Expository Composition during my undergrad and reading in the professor’s syllabus that topics had to be approved and that topics such as marijuana legalization, flag burning, etc. would be flat-out denied. I felt that same anxiety as described in the article: “these old standbys make students feel safe as they navigate the uncertainty of the research process.” So basically it’s a “gamble” between choosing a topic that they’re familiar with, that they may have a lot to say about already, and exploring a new topic that they may not know “if they can ultimately meet their instructor’s expectations.” And many, like that distant, past version of me, choose the safe bet.

Reading about Oregon State University’s librarians efforts to stimulate curiosity seemed like a logical partnership between librarians and faculty. I thought their ideas for developing activities, such as browsing press releases, and adopting positive language were especially helpful. Along with having students take a Curiosity Self -Assessment, these ideas helped me visualize creating my own environments and partnerships. It helped me solidify the thought that the library is a place for curiosity. I also took satisfaction in knowing that their examination allowed for curricular change in the end.

The other article I found interesting and then even more interesting was Catalano et al.’s article. Seeing how “21st century trends” were defined and its findings put into perspective how prevalent these trends are was interesting in itself. This increased at a later point because I recently read Alia Wong’s article in The Atlantic entitled “College Students Just Want Normal Libraries.” The title essentially says it all—Wong writes: “Many college libraries are reinventing themselves, but perhaps they’re trying to fix an institution that isn’t, in fact, broken.” After reading about hyperlinked libraries, this article seemed to be grounded in the worry that libraries, librarians, are experiencing technolust—we want the latest technology and trends because we want people to come in the doors. Yes, of course, we want technology and we want people to come through the doors, but the reasons for this aren’t based on whimsy. They’re based on patrons’ needs, such as Hardenbrook’s guiding article for starting a student food pantry or as minor (or significant!) as Bakersfield College’s small section of popular fiction and DVDs.

Photo of popular reading and DVDs shelf
BC Library’s popular reading and DVD shelf. This idea came about due to many patrons asking for “good books” to read and the library listening to the feedback from its patrons.

Understanding what “21st Century Trends” were in Catalano et al.’s article also helped me come to the conclusion that academic libraries aren’t adopting wild and new technology in place of books. They’re investing in practical areas such as innovative reference or institutional repositories. While Wong is worried about the push for digital in spite of reader’s preference for physical materials, she does bring up that community college students prefer reliable Wi-Fi over virtual reality headsets and that Duke University students see the need for physical materials as more important than virtual reference. This, however, doesn’t take into account that different types of academic libraries need different types of things. It would be ill-advised for a community college library to buy a 3D printer without an academic program for that (not to mention the infrastructure to support it). New ideas should be explored, examined, assessed, and either adopted or dropped based on the patrons. The hyperlinked academic library takes the needs of its students over merely adopting technology because everyone else is doing it and thinking that it will solve everything.


I’m going to start by referencing a Fox News article about something that recently happened on Twitter. Yes. That Fox News. No. It wasn’t a negative story about libraries. You may consider it superficial or possibly vapid, but recently Chrissy Teigen visited a library for the first time in 23 years. Chrissy Teigen is a television personality, model, and author. She had this to say [language advisory!]:

Aside from free publicity for libraries in general and starting a conversation about how awesome libraries are, why am I writing about this? I’m not typically concerned with celebrities and I only knew her as someone my fiancé follows and sometimes talks about. When I first read about this I thought, Awesome! Another ally! But later, after I read Steve Denning’s (2015) article “Do We Need Libraries?” I thought about this exchange on Twitter and about how Denning describes how businesses are shifting focus from seller to buyer. Denning states: “The customer has choices and good information about those choices. Unless customers and users are delighted, they can and will take their business elsewhere.” It was that keyword “delight” that triggered this memory and association. Teigen was delighted by her library experience and that’s something we need to aim towards for everyone.

Reaching Everyone

One of the concepts, as explained by Stephens (2016), of the Hyperlinked Library is reaching all users, not just the ones who come through the doors (p. 2). As libraries are constantly expounded as being democratic, equalizing institutions, the hyperlinked library is for everyone, even those who think they may not need it. Shannon (2014) states that new entrepreneurial models “broaden the library’s narrative to include everyone, not only the ‘have-nots.’” Clearly, users like Teigen are “haves” and reaching those users is important, but keeping all our users delighted is important as well so they come back, so it’s delightful to use the library. While Teigen didn’t mention newer library ventures such as 3D printing, seed libraries, or digital services, and we may not know her library’s organizational structure or model, we can think about how much more delighted these users will be when they discover they can do the things they normally associate with libraries and then some. Not that it has to all be about delight, lest we overstep the line between gimmick and delight, but we must keep in mind to “integrate the new built on a foundation of core ethics and values” (Stephens, 2016, p. 2).

I had my own experience recently. I utilized the Zip Books service at my library branch. This service allows a user to request a library book not in the catalog or available through interlibrary loan and ships it to you from Amazon.


Within three months, you return it and it becomes part of the library’s collection. I’m a long time user of the public library, and being able to use this service made me feel delight, but knowing that this allowed me as a user to have some slight control over the library’s collection was an even better feeling. Including the user, and thinking of the user, is another concept behind the hyperlinked library. This example also shows that new integration built on the foundations of core ethics and values. Services like this allow us to be better aligned with our ethics and values and make sure the library remains for everyone–me, Teigen, and everyone else.


chrissyteigen. (2019, August 7). I just went to the public library for the first time in *23* years… [Tweet] https://twitter.com/chrissyteigen/status/1159163126891204609

Denning, S. (2015, April 28). Do we need libraries? Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/stevedenning/2015/04/28/do-we-need-libraries/?utm_campaign=ForbesTech&utm_source=TWITTER&utm_medium=social&utm_channel=Technology&linkId=13831539#5206ac496cd7

Mattern, S. (2014, June). Library as infrastructure. Retrieved from https://placesjournal.org/article/library-as-infrastructure/

Stephens, M. T. (2016). The heart of librarianship: Attentive, positive, and purposeful change. Retrieved from https://search-ebscohost-com.libaccess.sjlibrary.org/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=1350356&site=ehost-live&scope=site

chrissyteigen. (2019, August 7). I just went to the public library for the first time in *23* years… [Tweet] https://twitter.com/chrissyteigen/status/1159163126891204609

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