Sunday, 17 July 2011

Serendipity and fundamental book stacks...

On 4th July I visited the London Library, a large independent lending library based in central London.
I found it to be a beautiful library and a place I'd love to study in - far from what I thought it would be; I had thought it would seem elitist.
London Library entrance.
I had also thought it would be a bit like the British Library in that one would take up their little piece of paper with bibliographic information on to the desk where it would then be retrieved. Having done this enough as a student, I remember how frustrating it can be to wait while the member of staff finds it and then you realise, once it has arrived, that it is not quite the item you initially thought it would be. The London Library is not like this. The stacks are open for people to browse with the possibility that through a stroke of serendipity the reader may come across a book they didn't realise existed but is perfect for what they require.
Bookstacks open to browse and holding up the building!
Relating this to my own place of work made me think how we generally encourage students to use the catalogue but always try to explain that there may be other items alongside where they are looking which might be useful - adding a little bit of this serendipity into their own experiences! Unfortunately, students are so frightened of not having the 'right' book that they are too nervous to trust their own judgement, which I think is a shame. This is something we, as a team, are trying to counteract by introducing posters and bookmarks near where the students are searching, saying things like - if you found this useful - why not try..., or try searching for books covering similar subjects on ebrary etc.
At the London Library, there were various study environments ranging from completely silent to being allowed to chat and use electronic equipment. In the Higher Education Centre, which I am responsible for, I have tried very hard to implement and maintain this practice and feedback I have received ensures me I am still doing the right thing.
One of the things our guide showed us which struck me most was that the book stacks were literally holding up the building - I like the obvious metaphor!
There was lots more to see and listen to but I don't want to write every little detail. They do free tours, so I'd recommend you go and see for yourself.

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