Posted by: Steven Harris | April 26, 2009

Meet ’em where they live

I love the idea of library as place. Although I would encourage the place, more and more, to be something virtual, I also think the importance of a physical environment should not be under estimated. But I’m thinking about ways of reaching out to library users and meeting them where it would be most useful to them.

That is why I’ve become obsessed with this idea: put a satellite library in the student union building on campus. I’m thinking of a small storefront style library presence. In my ideal vision there is a service desk right up front, facing out onto a busy hallway. There are chairs for customers to walk right up and sit down with the librarian for a research consultation.  The library is about the width of two office desks, but it is much deeper: kind of shotgun shack or mobile home dimensions. It is only staffed by one librarian.

Customers (students, faculty, or staff) could also come in to the library (rather than just sitting at the consultation desk up front). Along one wall behind the consultation desk are 3 or 4 computer stations where customers can do their own searching. All the way to the back is a comfy seating area: a couch and a couple of overstuffed chairs. Along the other long wall is a popular reading collection: McNaughton or what have you. Students can browse this collection and sit down for a bit of reading in the comfy area. Everything can be checked out.

The consultation librarian has a small reference collection: maybe an encyclopedia or two, dictionaries, local phonebooks, style manuals. The idea of the place is to be right there to offer assistance. Perhaps the student has been meaning to come to the library to ask for help but has just never gotten around to it. As they walk through the student union, they are reminded of their research need and sit right down with the librarian to ask for help.  The librarian gives them ideas and then moves them to one of the computer stations in the satellite library. The librarian can then check back on the student’s progress. Eventually, the student feels confident enough to go off and work on their own. It all took less then a half hour. The librarian can also help with formatting citations and footnotes, or other parts of the research process.

The satellite is a good way to meet students where they are. It also helps form good will with the studentbody.  It is open virtually all the hours that the student union is open. A lot of students just come in to relax and browse the popular books. Eventually, they have a project the librarian can help them with. They never think of it as “going to the library.” It’s just right there all the time.



  1. University of Canterbury, NZ have done this, see deborah Fitchett’s web page for more details We are going to start our Libary@engineering cafe tomorrow. Wish us luck.

  2. Cool idea. At first I thought better for larger universities, then realized no matter the size, almost all universities have a student union, which is the ideal place for a satellite and quick reference consultations.

  3. Britt and Wendy are doing satellite service in the Business Building at USU. Seems to be working quite well. I’m wondering what other subject librarians might want to attempt this and in what other locations.

  4. Have you read “Who’s in Charge?”, report by Tim Coates on public library system in UK? Although it’s addressed to a different sector, his concerns are extremely relevant to your suggestions. see

  5. Thanks for the link Andrew. Haven’t read that item, but looks like good info.

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