Today’s post is in response to Sharon’s post yesterday about libraries as community builders, and how I think academic libraries fit into this space. Academic libraries, particularly for those universities which only have one library and not a series of subject-specific libraries, are a “neutral space” on campus available to everyone. This would make them an ideal hub for community building. Subject-specific libraries could serve the same role, but they would be focused on the staff and students who are working in particular subject areas, rather than the whole university. I’m not sure how well academic libraries do in the community-building role. It would be tricky trying to bring disparate groups together into a single community, I think, if there wasn’t a common purpose. Students studying the same subjects tend to naturally form communities because they all have a common interest. Maybe the academic library’s role is more in facilitating the community-building activities of other groups on campus – for example providing a space for a “Shut up and write” gathering.
There are certainly a range of different communities on a university campus, such as the research community, teaching and learning community, and the internationalisation community, and the library is usually represented in them all. I think a large part of the role of a Liaison or Research Librarian is to try and become part of the community that they support so that they are visible, and people knew the library as being about more than books.
I’m still finding my way around in my new job, so I’m not sure how special libraries fit into the community-building scene. Having a well-defined community of users all with similar interests could be an advantage that special libraries have over academic libraries. I’ll be interested to see how this plays out in my new workplace.