The Impact of Interdisciplinary Study and Research on Library Spaces
Both my Academic Librarianship and Librarianship for Science and Technology classes have been discussing the move in academia and science toward interdisciplinary work and research. Why would a bunch of librarians be discussing that? Well, how our patrons work and study directly impacts how we help them accomplish what they need to do. For years the disciplines were clearly stratified, and that led to the creation of separate spaces for different disciplines–particularly separating science and the humanities. Now that interdisciplinary work is in vogue some libraries and librarians are trying to mesh the branches and library spaces back together again. I’m not so sure that’s the best idea.
People need to feel not just welcomed but also at home in a place if it’s going to become a home away from home. If we want repeat patrons, patrons who come and stick around, patrons who get excited about the library and want to learn to use the resources, then having a vast undefined space isn’t going to cut it. People like their space to reflect who they are. It’s cool for a scientist to walk into a room and see brain models. It’s fun for a women’s studies student to walk in and see a poster of Margaret Mead. Sure, both of those things can be in one room, but at the academic or special library level that reads as unfocused. Not to mention the ease of use that results from being in the science library and knowing that the librarians present are specialists in your area of study. In an integrated library, you might luck out and get the science librarian on the reference desk, but it’s equally likely that you’d get the history librarian. Sure, they could go get the science librarian or have you make an appointment with her, but that’s not as easy, is it?
Similarly in the virtual world it’s a lot easier to quickly use a website geared toward a specific audience than to use one geared toward everyone. That’s why public libraries have sections of their website devoted to children, teens, and adults. They could make one page dedicated to everybody, but that would be hard to do and hard to use. Now I know you’re thinking that just because an academic library is planning on integrating all its branches into one building it doesn’t mean that they won’t create multiple websites for different users. Well, I ask, if you wouldn’t do that online, why would you do it physically?
I’m not saying there isn’t a place for interdisciplinary spaces in the academic and special libraries. There absolutely is. I love the idea of study spaces designed for interdisciplinary work, but what I like even more is the idea of an interdisciplinary branch library with a librarian or two specializing in interdisciplinary work. That would be truly helpful to our patrons, not eliminating all distinction altogether.