Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Tending the garden is so necessary

Over flowing shelves at a university library

I recently paid a visit to one of the oldest and largest university libraries in HK (it shall remain nameless as I was on a borrowed card ... shhhh!) to borrow some resources for our diploma/ senior students for a specific research project they are undertaking and frankly I was shocked. 

  • I was shocked at the age of the resources indicated by the amount of dust settled on them. (and that they had not been moved in a long time - or dusted - it is like they keep everything ever catalogued, weeding not allowed)
  • I was shocked that there were multiple (like up to 15) editions of the same book taking up space on the shelves, 
  • I was shocked at how full the shelves were. (you couldn't remove  books from the shelves without using two hands, and don't even think about replacing it on the shelf without a warm up beforehand)
  • I was shocked at how packed with shelving the library space was (and it is a HUGE library over many floors). 
  • I was shocked at how many compactors were used.
  • I was shocked that books were being shelved sideways on the shelves, with carts used as overflows.
  • I was shocked at the primitive signage and at the age of the shelving, (signs were hand scribbled with a marker pen)
  • I was shocked when the catalogue told me they held a specific periodical, I went to the stacks to find it, couldn't find it, eventually found a staff member to help me, but was informed they had stopped subscribing in 1991 (isn't that important information to put in your opac for the users benefit?)
  • One patron could not find what she was looking for so she asked for assistance. The library staff also could not find what she required, so she had to complete a form to request a search party to hunt down the books she needed, the OPAC indicated the resources were available.
  • I was shocked that there was no staff to help me except on one floor where a beautiful new computer and collaborative learning facility had been built. They had removed all the shelving from this space and turned the floor into a lovely modern environment with many desktop computers and other learning spaces. It was obvious this is where the money has been spent. (It apparently received many donations as well)
Apparently funding has been cut to this academic library so much that they do not have the staff to keep up with the necessary jobs to keep this library in the condition it deserves and, it shows. All the circulation terminals were self checkout (that was ok in my circumstance) but they looked like they were just plonked in top of the circulation desk without any consideration for the ease of use for the patron (it was very high, with limited space to place books). No money could be spared to make it not look like they had just removed the costly people from the space and replaced them with machines.

This quote is from one of their students in a survey conducted by the library which describes it pretty well.... (I will not include the source to protect myself and my partner in library crime!)

“…unfortunately there's an appalling 60's-70's pall which descends whenever you go into the library. it IS quite an ugly old library and badly designed in two buildings. furnishings etc are all old and ugly. there's no sense of inspiration at all there. it's dull and dim and ugly." 

Overall It was a very sad place (except for that floor which had been renovated). I came out of there feeling very dirty from all the dust and sad because if this is how libraries of the top universities of the world are being treated, then research libraries will die and become a thing of the past. I do hope they are able to continue with the improvements, but this will require money and staff to really bring it up to a decent level of what would be expected of a research library. One floor of renovations does not a  research library make. Other academic libraries in HK are not as old, and are much, much better.

School libraries in comparison are places of excitement for learning. I feel sad for our students if this is what will greet them in their future studies.
The newly renovated floor. Such a contrast.

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