Are libraries just for study?

One of the things that I love about working in a library is that there’s always something new and exciting to do. It’s a profession that is about so much more than shelving books.

My most recent project was more fun than most. Our library has recently expanded, and now there are more social and quiet spaces for students. It has been very well received, and the students love having new places to study and relax (and particularly some of our quirkier furniture).

A purple armschair with a high back and big arms.

Our new furniture, affectionately referred to as ‘Alice’ chairs, because they look like they belong in Alice in Wonderland.

A library, though, is not just a place to work – we know that people are worth so much more than their productivity. Libraries across time have provided places of contemplation, serenity and therapy, and we found that our brand new areas were functional, yes, and bright – but they have the potential for so much more.

Inspiration came in the form of some free promotional material from a provider – they had giant colouring ‘wellness’ posters, and placed in the right area, it made a huge difference to the friendliness of the place. This was during the summer, and even though it was quiet, the students quickly filled it in.

I spent hours researching the best designs to use for our own colouring poster, specific to the town and the University. The first attempt came out as a mural-style poster, but the spaces were too big to colour easily and lacked the intricate detail that is a part of adult colouring books. Slowly, with feedback from staff, research and liaising with our graphics department, we created a poster that identifies with the students’ experiences. It has been up for less than a day as I write this, and already it has started filling up.

An illustration of a globe.
A portion of the globe was coloured in within a few hours.

An unexpected result of the poster is how students have used the blank spaces in the poster to express themselves. You can see where people have scrawled messages when they are stressed, political statements, or even seemingly aimless doodles.

There is faint writing on the spine of a book: the importance of feminism.
You can see how ideologies are developing in students.

There are messages, of course, that may be deemed offensive for a public space, and that has created the eternal of conundrum of what to do – it is so utterly against the ideology of libraries to censor individual thought, but we are also a public space and must try to make our patrons feel safe. Our current resolution is to stick photos of dogs and cats over words that might be deemed offensive, but trying to leave the general message up there.

Anti-Trump graffiti on a colouring poster.
A photo of a pug covering a certain swearword…

We hope to continue to make our library more student-friendly and engage with students on a level that isn’t just about studying and productivity –  the next initiative is to consider growing plants from seeds out of the infamously non-recyclable takeaway coffee cups. We may give them names or take suggestions from students, which is a bit of fun – we have already had the name Heathcliff suggested, which should probably be a plant that prefers gloom and spends its days brooding – possibly on the other side of a window from a plant called Kathy. Library staff have a bit of a reputation for being quirky – we may as well live up to it.

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