My academic experiences before coming to the United States were in two countries, but in neither did I really get to use libraries properly. Here in America, the library has come to mean so much to me: it has turned out to be an essential aspect of learning. I have come to discover that there is a real culture to libraries and their use.
There are two libraries at my current university, and I’ve learned that there is an interesting clash of library cultures between these two.
One library is the major, central one for the entire university. It is immense, occupying a prominent position on campus.
Of course its holdings are innumerable. The building looks nice, but, honestly, it is so large that it is a little difficult to find one’s way. Plus, the area around the circulation and reference desks are always full of people and very noisy. And on top of that, the library has a café. So, I guess it’s more than just a library. I mean, all libraries also double as study areas, but this one is very active and sociable. I hear that, come exam time, it gets even more loud in there.
The second library is that of my graduate school. It is much smaller and cosier, but it is laid out in a strange manner thanks to some old renovations. What used to be the basement of one building became the first floor of another, while the first building’s first floor is really a second floor, which, by the way, looks through a window down into that basement, which is now one of the library’s reading rooms, but in order to actually get to that room, one has to turn all the way around through three other corridors, or perhaps go outside and come back in…
Well, you get the point. It is actually reminiscent in some ways of the Addams Family home or an M. C. Escher painting. So, it is funny, but also a little frustrating at times getting around.
The graduate school library is open to all, but it seems that the undergraduate students are considered less than welcome by many of my fellow master’s degree candidates.
To be fair, the undergraduates do tend to speak more in what’s supposed to be a quiet area and, during exam time, they spill over to all available study areas, including the graduate library. It is a tradition, apparently, of our student e-mail list to vent frustration at the undergrads towards the end of each semester. I guess that’s natural, but I also fear that it may lead to an uncomfortable atmosphere for many. However, I don’t know exactly how one would go about creating a culture that would be more conducive to all users of the library, especially as the graduate students are around for only one or two years for the most part, whereas the undergraduates have four.
My own undergraduate experience involved reading a lot of books as a part of the curriculum, and so the reading culture as such went very deep into the student experience there. Added to which, there was a delightful library – not too big, not too small, a straightforward floor plan, very well-lit, and also cozy, with a helpful and friendly staff. I was in there all the time, so much so that by my third year at the most I already knew where things were, i.e., I didn’t always have to check the catalog to find the book I needed.
I don’t think I’ll be able to develop that sort of relationship with either of the libraries at my disposal now, but that hasn’t stopped me from checking out books, movies, or even graphic novels (that’s a fancy word for “comic book”). I know it sounds cliché, but I have really learned to love libraries and make the best use of them as a key resource for learning. It is probably the best kind of acculturation to which I have been subject in this country.