Last summer I attended my 30th high school reunion. Several years previously, the school (Emma Willard, for those who care) started to rethink and repurpose some of the campus – they did this deliberately, thoughtfully, and with great care. When we got back, the biggest change we found was that the main floor of the dorms was completely different: instead of two dining rooms joined by a kitchen, there was one room with an open kitchen, and where there had been a kitchen there was now day student lockers and a lounge (there were other changes, but that’d just get boring for everyone).
My point is, the school didn’t make these changes capriciously. Of course it was completely confusing for me to navigate, but I figured it out, just as all the other returning alumnae did. One classmate was upset, and remained upset throughout the weekend. This change seemed unnecessary, the dining room couldn’t possibly hold the entire school, etc.. While as an alumna I understood her complaint, as a school librarian I was on the school’s side.
The other night I had dinner with someone from our Alumni & Development Office. We talked a little about the New! Improved! library space and she mentioned that there were alumni who didn’t like it. It wasn’t “their” library, it was too modern, etc.. Ok, I hear that. But the old library physically burned down four years ago, and rebuilding it exactly “as was” would have done the school a disservice. As for the contents, I wasn’t about to miss this opportunity to replace print with digital (where appropriate), to interfile our REF and BIO collections into the Non-Fiction, to upgrade our fiction, etc.. While I appreciate their sorrow at the loss of our print OED or Britannica, it would be doing the students a disservice to have replaced them in print when digital serves their needs better.
And, of course, there’s the way I run the library now – it’s not the Silent Sacred Space. It’s not a madhouse either… most of the time. Know what? Student usage is rising. Circulation is rising. Teachers collaborating on research projects is rising. Yes, I still adhere to some of the librarian stereotype (and for more on that, Lipstick Librarian says it best) but I try to do what the school needs now. Not what they needed five or ten or fifty years ago.
And I try to anticipate what it will need in five years. Because what it will need then is going to be different from what it needs now.