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Archive for the ‘Comparing Irish & Canadian Libraries’ Category

I’d just like to thank those who have commented to me either on the blog or in person about this post.Certainly there are interesting and relevant points on both sides of the debate, in terms of whether anyone should be able to walk in to academic library space or not.

I’d stressed the value of the educative role of academic libraries and facilitating access to information, where we can, as a key reason I’d fall in the “not to swipe” camp, though I appreciate it’s not an entirely straightforward question.

Thanks to those who point out that:

  • Academic library space is increasingly at a premium, and it can be hard to accommodate even our own students.
  • Those who enter academic libraries do not always have the best intentions in mind, and in some cases, walk-in access can leave legitimate users more open to risk of theft, for example. On this note, I spent time recently at one of Dublin’s public libraries. Obviously public libraries, by their very nature, open their doors to all.  I did notice though that quite often there would be an announcement on the intercom to advise library patrons to look out for their possessions in this busy open public space. This seemed one way of approaching the matter.
  • In practice, it can be hard for us to make our information available, even where we want to, due to vendor licenses. And this is certainly a significant factor, though guest access, where research use is intended, is permissable in some cases.
  • In a meeting I had with two librarians at an Irish academic library recently where access gates are used, they talked about:
    • how, on the one hand, their gates give technical difficulties, with the result that they’d actually had to deactivate the swiping requirement for some of the summer months (which reminds me that this morning at another academic library in Dublin, I saw one of the student orientation guides, say to the students he was bringing on a tour, that the library gates often don’t work, and that it can lead to queues, as students have problems getting their cards to register as they enter the library).
    • on the other hand, they had a case, where funding was sought for a library project from different faculties. One faculty stated their disinterest in helping with funding, giving as a reason for this that their students seldom use the library. Hello access stats! The swiping stats that they had enabled them to show how many students were, in fact, visiting the library from that specific faculty (which actually turned out to be a lot), and this made a difference in making the case for funding!

Lots to ponder!

Right now I’m  a “Visiting Scholar” (that’s what they are calling me at any rate, so I have graciously accepted this title!) at the School of Information and Library Studies (SILS) at University College Dublin . This will be from July to December of this year.

Being in Ireland brings me in touch with academic libraries here. Firstly, my work with SILS is facilitating this, and secondly academic libraries are just a place I like to visit anyway. One of my own personal research goals for this year’s sabbatical was to earn a deeper appreciation of the differences between academic libraries in Ireland compared to Canada. Already I’m learning from the way they do things here. Or in some cases, no doubt, observed differences are there for good reasons, and reflect differences in higher education structures or cultures that should be respected and honoured.

I’m going to post several times on this theme. But I thought I’d start by commenting on one difference I’ve noticed so far, with a few reflections on this.

There may be exceptions, but from my knowledge and experience of Canadian academic libraries, anyone can visit them, in terms of being allowed to enter their doors.

In Ireland, I am yet to visit an academic library which does not require those entering to provide proof that they are legitimate library users and have some form of library card or university/college ID. This used to involve a manual check by a security person at a lot of academic libraries, but generally nowadays students, faculty and others with requisite ID must swipe their cards when they both enter and exit the library. There are often provisions to offer access to alumni, community borrowers  etc., but they need to get some form of library card  before they can enter the library’s doors.

I’m sure many pros and cons could be discussed but I thought for me these are the key points on each side of the debate:

To swipe…

Statistics, statistics, statistics. On a visit to one academic library in Dublin, the librarian told me about the useful statistics you can get where students, faculty etc. are required to swipe their ID cards on entering and exiting the library. Not only do you get a gate count, as we do at York University Libraries, for example, as well as information on what time people entered, but you also know who they are, what program they are in, what year they are in, whether they are an undergraduate or graduate student, or an alumnus, or a faculty member, etc. Basically the library benefits from a wealth of information linked to the user’s university or college record. And you can keep a log of when people leave, e.g., obtain insights on the duration of library visits. And I must admit I thought that data could be mighty useful in informing development of library services, and in identifying user groups, where more outreach needs to be conducted.

Or not to swipe…

Freedom of access to information is the bottom line for me here.

While I’m a huge believer in the importance of assessing what we do at academic libraries, and I see the value the swipe statistics could add here, I don’t think that this can come before the fundamental principle of libraries facilitating freedom of access to information for all, in so far as it is possible for them to do so. Of course, the vendor licenses for many of the e-resources academic libraries purchase, explicitly state that they must be used by registered students, faculty and staff only. And many academic libraries in Canada and elsewhere are requiring some form of ID before visitors are allowed guest access to library computers.

But when it comes to entering an academic library’s doors, keeping barriers to a minimum is arguably desirable. I like to think that academic libraries are there to educate, inform and inspire not just those who are teaching, researching or studying there, but also alumni, researchers from other universities, community users etc. Academic libraries in Ireland, do make provisions, for this kind of user and others to have access to their collections, don’t get me wrong! But first they typically require one to get a library card.

Might eliminating that step be best? I can’t help thinking that if, for example, a community user, is instead allowed to enter an academic library, at will, he/she will feel more inclined to not only go there in the first place, but also to return. Just that ability to enter, without having to first prove his/her right to have that access, has the rather appealing outcome of immediately being able to browse the book stacks, find a spot to read within the library space, and even consult a reference librarian. Indeed, maybe said community user has always been curious about their local academic library, and decides to just pop in, scope it out, and leaves with the feeling that he/she very definitely want to come back, and get started on a pet research project that he/she has been pondering for a while. And maybe that leads him/her to go back to university or even start university education for the first time. Arguably a less likely outcome in a scenario where he/she has to apply for a library card (which very likely involves a fee) even to be able to enter his/her local academic library’s doors.