An Open Letter to our College Libraries

It’s finally the start of the collegiate school year, and you know what that means? The start of another four months of late night cramming, endless amounts of black coffee, and all-day study group sessions.

I was still in that typical summer-induced haze when I walked into my first class just a couple weeks ago, and I was hit with this heavy realization that school was about to take over my life once again. Every student seems to go through this cycle every year at the end of August: desperately trying to keep their vacation alive as the summer days bleed into fall, yet failing as the days pass on and you’re forced to consider the inevitable predicament that is called school.

I can’t tell you how many days the past three or so weeks that I’ve rolled out of bed completely frazzled because my alarm didn’t wake me up. Think of a zombie from the show the Walking Dead. But instead of a zombified flesh-eating creature, think of a heavy-lidded college student mulling around with a heavy Business Law textbook in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other.

Going back to school meant all these things: staying up until 2 or 3 A.M. trying to figure out a problem you’ve been stuck on for hours; trying to caffeinate your way into proofreading an essay due that night for your online class; trying hard to stay awake in that 8 or 9 AM class you had no choice but to take. Not one student has ever not experienced one of the predicaments I just named.

It’s a hard adjustment for all students – whether you’re in high school or pursuing a degree in higher education. I know for me that I haven’t fully adjusted yet. But despite all the hardships of these first three weeks of adjustment, what still kept me alive and well was one thing:

My college library.

The library on campus was my safe haven – a steady constant in my academic life that seemed to never change no matter how hectic my class schedule got. Quite literally, it’s always there when you need it. Need a place to completely lose yourself in an assignment and finish it within the hour? I make a beeline to the campus library. Forget to print out an assignment that’s due right at this moment? I run to the library. Desperately needing a quiet place to nap before my next class session? You guessed it – I find a spot in the back and I put my head down to take a quick snooze.

I personally think we fail to acknowledge its versatility as well as its impact on both students and the library sphere at-large. Of course, the traditional way of using the academic library is for study purposes, but it’s also many other things. It doesn’t just sit on our campuses as an archaic, informational database. It’s quite versatile and essential to any active student – and I’d contend that’s it’s a vital necessity for academic success.

Consider just a few of the many services they provide:

1. E-books.

E-books allow information to be accessed on a digital platform anywhere and everywhere. Traditional paperback lovers like me used to scoff at the reliance of e-books …but I’ve personally come to see the light with how convenient and useful they are in the classroom. Sure, I still prefer having physical books when it comes to reading for leisure, but I can lie and say e-books and e-articles haven’t helped me immensely academically. Plus, it’s a much cheaper option because campus libraries offer these resources for free. Campus libraries have their very own “digital libraries” where you’re able to access e-books as well as e-articles without having to be at the library at-present. ProQuest – a large database that boasts a wide collection of academic content that “spans six centuries … providing the world’s largest collection of dissertations and theses, three centuries of newspapers, [and] more than 450,000 academic ebooks” – might be one of the more famous online platforms that are accessible to any student at any time as long as you have internet connection and your student ID. Most digital academic libraries are only accessible if you’re a registered student, though, but it boasts invaluable access to academic articles and journals that would normally cost a ton of money to access!

2. Personalized (and reliable!) Research.

Librarians are magical. We take them for granted, and we don’t utilize their resourcefulness enough! Sure, e-articles are useful but what’s the point of them if you don’t know where to start? Our academic libraries are headed by the best information gurus on campus. The first semester of my freshman year, I was completely lost as to where to start researching for my thesis because it was insanely specific. No matter how much time and effort I put into looking up relevant facts and articles online, I couldn’t find a reputable source to cite in my work that pertained to my thesis. Sure, there were a couple blogs, but they weren’t academic sources. Professors are awfully strict about that, especially with how easily people can manipulate information on the internet. Cue our campus librarian: all I had to explain to them was my topic and they were able to give me 2–3 books all surrounding the topic my choice, as well as a couple of e-articles on an online database that they happily suggested. Needless to say, those books and recommended articles were treasure troves of information, and I was able to conduct research in a more streamlined way. Preliminary research should always start with reputable sources, and librarians know exactly what those sources are and where to start.

3. Tech Hubs.

Virtually all campus libraries boast internet access to anyone and everyone with computers being accessible to every student with a valid ID. If you forget your laptop at home or if you don’t have access to a computer or the internet at home, the campus library is happily there to serve. Most of the time, college libraries like mine are open really early for those people looking to cram an assignment in before their 8 AM class starts. (The slow wifi signal on busy days is another story!)

A typical college student’s desk!

The most recent study conducted and published by the National Center for Education Statistics back in 2012 had these interesting factoids surrounding the measurable impact of our academic libraries:

  • Academic libraries loaned some 10.5 million documents to other libraries in fiscal year 2012.
  • Academic libraries conducted approximately 28.9 million information services to individuals.
  • Academic libraries added 52.7 million e-books, resulting in total e-books holdings of 252.6 million units.

California’s very own University of California library system – which is made up of 100 libraries with 2,400 library staff serving a population of 400,000 students and faculty members – is one of the the largest academic library system in the world. In 2013 alone, 2.2 million items were checked out of the library, 32 million articles were downloaded, 102,000 items were exchanged between campuses, and there were 496,000 reference inquiries.

Looking at those facts and figures put it into perspective for me; our academic libraries are insanely busy and active institutions.

But for me, personally, our academic libraries are all these things and more. For a busy college student like me, it’s the go-to place for impromptu study group sessions, the prime spot to print your last-minute essay, and it’s a pretty good place to take a power nap in between classes. It’s also the atmosphere that makes it particularly great to me. As opposed to a coffee shop where you have to try really hard to ignore the incessant grinding of coffee beans, the campus library is instead filled with the sounds of students clicking away on their computers or taking notes from their textbooks. I don’t know if it’s just me, but that kind of atmosphere makes me feel ready to write an entire novel in one sitting.

And it may be strange to say, but the more and more you spend time there, the more it starts to feel like a home away from home. Think about it: you’re surrounded with peers just like you who are committed to furthering themselves academically. We all share the same fears, ambitions, and dreams for our futures. Every person at every desk is similarly investing in their collective future careers – one essay or research paper at a time. It’s comforting as well as inspiring to know that we’re all on the same boat – unsure about our futures but still dedicated to get there no matter what it takes. It’s essentially a communal hub where we can quietly acknowledge that fact through our collective studying (or cramming, for some people).

Gerald Beasley – a newly appointed university librarian at the prestigious Cornell University – had this introspective statement about academic libraries:

“All libraries provide opportunities for personal transformation as well as social transformation. Any individual can come into a library – virtually or physically – and they can find out something they never expected to find out.”

Some of my best essays were written in my college library, and some of my best ideas were generated in my campus library, sitting in my favorite corner right behind the reference desk (where all the charging ports were, of course). It might be silly to thank a building on campus for these feats, but I’m not over exaggerating. It’s just true. Amidst a sea of young people who are looking forward to their uncertain futures, our campus libraries – the academic hearts of our individual universities and colleges – seem to be that stable footing in our campuses we can always rely on to be there even if we end up changing our career-related pursuits, our future plans, or our intended majors…or even if we just need a safe place to take that much-needed power nap in between classes.

And for that, I can’t thank it enough.