Saturday, 2 June 2012

Ask a Librarian...

With a stonking great 162,933 students, the University of Wisconsin is one of the largest Universities in the World. In pratical terms it is really a University System which is split into 13 different Universities. Nonetheless, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Campus has a student population of around 42,500 and a massive 40 (yes, forty!) separate libraries!

The largest of these is the Memorial Library which I visited on Wednesday and Thursday of this week. Finding effective means for reaching all of their many, many students is crucial to what they do at Winsconsin. Interactive digital displays are used extensively to advertise events and provide general way-finding and other visitor information. Their Ask a Librarian service has also played a big part in this. I have always thought of an Ask a Librarian service as an exclusively virtual thing but here the idea is marketed heavily everywhere you go, dominating physical spaces as well as the Library's web pages. There is an Ask a Librarian sign writ large above library enquiries desks, along with numerous posters, pamphlets and QR codes scattered around the building:

A poster located beside a lift at the Memorial Library
Digital signage is also prominent within the building
Ask a Librarian signs feature at helpdesks too
The chat system used here is something called LibraryH3lp. This is one I had not heard of before but is now used by over 300 library systems in the US (including the University of Chicago) and is just starting to get a foothold abroad. The service was setup by a husband and wife team, Pam & Eric. Pam works as a librarian at the University of North Carolina and Eric is a computer programmer. Together they were able to pool their collective skills to create a chat service which is specific to the needs of libraries and they even have their own Library H3lp Blog charting the success of this project.

The Memorial Library itself is absolutely huge, with some 3 million items in over 350 different languages (mainly Arts and Humanities texts). The building is also immediately opposite the ornate Madison Historical Society Library which includes a range of miscellanea written or created by notable Wisconsin Alumni such as Naturalist John Muir:  

The main reading room of the Madison Historical Society Library

John Muir's Desk Clock (1861) would regulate the 
time John could spend reading a particular book

I only had limited time to explore Madison but did manage to hire a bike from the University's very own Bicycle Resource Center (as a keen cyclist I do get a bit fidgety if I'm away from a bike for too long!). I also made it down to Der Rathskeller which is a German-style pub on campus boasting a quite mesmorising array of tankards along with an associated Stiftskeller menu of "Sehr Teuer" and "Teuer" (expensive) items! I also found out that Scottish folk dancing and Morris Dancing are big amongst the library community in Wisconsin. So that was unexpected!

Der Rathskeller: an underground lair at the Memorial Students' Union

No comments:

Post a Comment