Leisure Reading Collections in academic libraries


Facebook lets you install all sorts of third party applications. So far I am half way through a game of scrabble with one Facebook friend, have accidentally zombie bitten an overseas University Librarian, deliberately drawn grafitti on someone’s wall, laughed at my daily unshelved cartoon and have thrown virtual food at friends.

I like the “Question” application. It lets me ask a question that then appears in my friends newsstreams. My last question produced such, well – right- answers that I’m sharing them. I have permission from the contributors.

The question was:

Should we have leisure reading collections in academic libraries?

Here’s the answers:

Why not?

Yes! The academic library I used to work in had one. It was popular.

Definitely yes, subject to space and budget. We shouldn’t be as general as a public library, but if there’s something we think a good portion of our particular users would appreciate, that should be ok.

Sure! Students have some leisure time, why shouldn’t they spend it reading? Also, it’s a good way to draw staff into the library.

I can’t imagine a leisuire activity that isn’t up for critical analysis, so of course we should! 🙂

Yep! MPOW has a popular reading collection, that features on the holds list quite frequently. We have a lot of international students living on campus or very close by and the Library is not just used for study, but as their “family” room.

There is no such thing as pure leisure reading I think – everything can spark off a thought, reflection, or new discovery. If space permits, then by all means.

Absolutely! Everyone needs leisure reading and for many their academic library is the only library they access.

One person’s academic treatise is another person’s leisure reading.

Gaming? But this is an academic library.


Although my weekend in Melbourne was awesome, a teeny-tiny bit of me was off in Chicago at the Gaming, Learning and Libraries Symposium that was being held at the same time. Just check out the program to understand why.

If you want to see a nice shot of the Australian Farmer’s reading room we made in the Australian Libraries Builiding in Second Life, which is a well..umm…dunny….check out John Kirriemuir’s Off the Beaten Track slide 14 (and 23).

I was fascinated that there were quite a few presentations about gaming in academic libraries – for example Gaming in Academic Libraries: the why and how and Academic Libraries, Transformation, and Supporting Innovation in Gaming.

Very nice, I thought…can’t see it happening in Western Australia….. Then I thought a bit more.

Pokemon teaches kids to respect libraries. Uploaded to Flickr on May 8, 2007 by Klara Kim

Like many academic libraries, our library has just remodelled two floors to make a Learning Common. It is aimed at capitalising on the building as a social space – a place that creates a community of learners and provides a venue for students to hang out and (hopefully) do some self directed learning. We are opening part of it 24/7 and have soft drink vending machines, junkfood vending machines, comfy couches, a coffee shop…

Is a gaming space really so far from that continuum? During mid semester break, we have PC labs that stand empty. Would a leisure reading collection also fit in somewhere? I’ll bet our DVD collection isn’t borrowed primarily for scholarly reasons. Would it be just too hard to justify to funders who want academic libraries to be only about research? Would our funders laugh and ask when we were going to install the laudromat, the minibar and the exercise benches?

People who know how to game know a lot about human/computer interfaces. They have an intuitive understanding of how to quickly read and understand a screen. Problem solving, creative thinking, and even teamwork in MMPOGs are developed via gaming.

A buzz word in the Higher Ed sector is “engagement” of undergraduates. Although I can see that it has a pastoral element and includes lofty ideas about intellectual/community involvement, to me it equates roughly to “getting bums on seats and keeping them there” – ie. attracting students and keeping them happy long enough so that they learn something and the university gets the funding dollars that come with them.

I wonder whether providing a couple of consoles, one or two screens in a gaming corner would create a place for students to take a break and socialize – maybe making some new friends – and then keep on with their engagement in their studies.

A user created library? The Carrick Exchange


What if academics from around the country shared their Teaching and Learning materials and methodologies in a central repository? What if they could create profiles for social networking around those materials and give peer review and create communities of practice?

The Carrick Exchange is being established to encourage this kind of sharing. It is to be administered by the Carrick Institute, a wholly government funded body established to “promote and advance learning and teaching in Australian higher education”. More information was given at the recent paper at Ausweb07 entitled Creativity in the Envisioning of a Collaborative Learning Space: first stages in the development of the Carrick Exchange.

I’m flying to Melbourne on 27th July to be part of a focus group for the Carrick Exchange, giving feedback about “engagement, resource sharing and peer review and commentary”. They are inviting 36 people from around Australia and are ensuring that each group includes some representation of:

  • Academics who seldom use technology but are interested in learning and teaching;
  • Members of cross-institutional teams (Carrick grant holders, consortiums etc);
  • Educational developers
  • Librarians
  • Staff developers
  • “Early adopters” or “front runners”; and
  • Repository representatives

I’m very glad to see the “L” word in the list. When I read through the preliminary information I thought “this is about storage, access and retrieval, this is about engagement of users, this is about creating community hubs – this looks like a library to me – albeit one with user created content”. Any librarian who knows her stuff would be able to establish and maintain the straightforward parts.

Where it stops being straightforward is in the areas of acquisition, reference, administering social profiles, authentication and taking it to the users’ own tools. New forms of libraries and librarianship will require librarians to know about these in the future. Here’s the challenges I see, and that I am very glad not to have to solve:

Acquisition The Carrick Exchange would be a repository created by its users for its users. Academics currently get funding and prestige based on their unique ideas and research. It’s like bread to the baker. To populate their repository, the Carrick exchange asks them to give these over and share their material. To encourage this, would the Exchange need to mimic the academic environment by offering prestige, peer review and/or grants?

I don’t know about you, but if I had to repackage a superbly engaging info literacy class into formal academic writing for peer review, then the work involved would discourage me from submitting it – and the soul would have probably been sucked out of it anyhow. Some academics are also incredibly protective of their copyright in material they create.

Reference Most libraries have trained professionals who answer questions about the collection and its systems. Our OPACs and federated search software may suck, but at least librarians know how to squeeze comprehensive, fine-tuned answers from them. They build up relationships with the users and know complementary resources outside the scope of their institution. The Carrick Exchange would be more effective with an officer to show people what is there and how to find it – via chat, email, VOIP, carrier pigeon – whatever.

Administering social profiles Librarians know how to administer records for non-people resources like books and online databases. How is it different when the records in your database correspond to objects that can change their own profile and create content, create other records and create complex links between these? Is it just a few steps on from managing user records where people are rating books and recalling them – or completely different?

Authentication This is recognised as a challenge in the AusWeb07 paper, when the solution suggested is a national authentication framework, allowing the user’s university environment and the Carrick Exchange to fit together seamlessly. I wonder how this fits in with the MAMS (Meta Access Management System) Testbed , which is an Australian Government initiative building a prototype federated Identity and Access Management (IAM) infrastructure for Australia’s Higher Education sector? (MPOW uses it in a joint project ( Online Librarian) with Macquarie library, where a user from Murdoch or Macquarie is directed to the correct institution on login)

Taking it to the users’ own tools. Do any of us need yet another place to go, or another social network? I wonder whether they have considered any of the methods that libraries are beginning to use for working with the users’ tools ?

Of course, my musings are probably not the type of thing we’ll be asked about in the focus group. I’m just intrigued by the librarianship puzzles it holds. I’m looking forward to finding out exactly what we’ll be discussing and meeting with the other group participants.

If you have any ideas or comments about the proposed Exchange, I’d love to hear them.

Second Life Workshops in an Academic Library or “Fluffy librarianship”.


I’ve been doing a lot of work with Second Life recently and wonder if I’m hanging out at the fluffy end of librarianship.

While my colleagues in our uni library are finding the best electronic resources to meet scholars’ needs, I’m giving 8 workshops in the next 2 months for the uni community in “Creating your avatar” and “Doing more with your avatar”. In my classes in a library PC lab, people are giving themselves silly names, bouncing on virtual trampolines, changing their clothes in front of their classmates, banging into walls and laughing a lot. If you want to see what we’ve been doing, here’s the course outline, murdochsecondlife .


My interest in Second Life began as an extension of an earlier Sims 2 addiction and a curiousity about how you would “do” a library there. I saw it as a geeky playtime, much the same way as Andrew Finegan makes great clips about libraries on YouTube in his spare time. Bit of fun.

Yesterday I had an extremely exciting invitation to fly to the other side of Australia to do some professional development with public librarians, all about Second Life. (I should be cool and pretend it happens every day). I love showing people Second Life for the first time and explaining to them how libraries are using it – people get very engaged and have that “wow” look on their faces. (Well, some have a “OMG that’s a load of crap” and others a “I feel motion sick” look).

I guess, I’m becoming known as “that librarian who knows about Second Life”…not sure that’s who I want to be. And my Second Life stuff is taking me away from the serious, grown-up edge of librarianship, like finding out more about open source library management software.

Ord Canning, a library avatar

I do think Second Life will have applications in education and for libraries, if it can just iron out that “have to have an expensive computer and huge amounts of bandwidth” glitch. And people continue to think that it’s OK for each avatar to take up as much energy as a real person in Brazil. With faster and cheaper computers it is possible that access to SL may become more equitable and less costly.

Behind the fluffiness of my workshops lies a point. I think online virtual worlds require a new literacy that you can only learn hands on. The Horizon Report 2007 identifies virtual worlds as one of six major trends in emerging technology that will impact on higher education, so I think our academics and students need to be able to evaluate this tool. Half the workshops were full the day the notice was emailed out, and they are now booked out, so there is certainly great interest.

I still feel like I’m maybe having too much fun…I’ll get over it…..

Virtual Learning Commons at University of Manitoba


MPOW is currently renovating a couple of floors of the library to make a Learning Common. We’re creating an area with lots of bench space and PCs, where students can gather and access services in the one spot – like library materials and staff, the First Year co-ordinator, IT service desk, print shop and our Teaching and Learning staff. Part of the building will be open 24/7.

I’ve been chirping on about how our online space should match the attitudes and philosophy of the new physical space, but didn’t have a clear picture of what I meant. Until I read a post on Linda Bedwell’s “Five Weeks to a Social Library” course blog. She linked to the University of Manitoba Virtual Learning Commons. “Aha!” said I, and “aha” again.


They have made a mini social network, based around a tag cloud of “what I’d like to do” suggestions similar to 43 things. A random profile is featured to the right. There is a Flickr stream on the bottom of the page (not shown).

I wonder how moderated the “something you want to do” list is. Surely their thoughts are more pop culturally, hormonally and substance driven than that? But maybe, just maybe…these kids can read and understand the social space and have set an appropriate norm without intervention.

This page would have kept me coming back when I was at Uni. Heck, I came back to read the “feedback to the library” suggestions and answers on paper cards pinned in the library lobby when I was a student. It let me know that other people were thinking the same as me, and having the same experience of Uni.

Just like a physical learning common, where a community of learners socialise as they learn but have access to expert university support when they need it, the sidebar provides links to several university services to support their learning. Writing, computing, libraries, study skills, asssignment management, online tutor – all the things we aim to have in our new physical space are there online.

UPDATE: 20 March 2007. I’ve just discovered that the software that generated this is Open Source and available on Sourceforge.