10 January 2022

The Next-Gen Libraries

“Shush…!” that was what we often heard in libraries of the past. I could still remember libraries of my childhood where it was a place where patrons read books and do their research quietly; so quiet that you could hear a pin drop. But this is not the case of the current educational demand especially in the era of digital dominance.

To be on par with the 21st-century teaching and learning, and in line with the current education trends, the library’s landscape has changed to integrate the learning needs of students. Academic libraries for instance transformed their study space into learning commons or maker space where students with shared interests can work collaboratively and stimulate problem-solving, share ideas that encourage knowledge transfer, have access to equipment or tools, and motivate one another. Some academic libraries even provide library cafes or student lounges where students can interact and socialize with the wider university’s community during their break.

A common way of getting the student population engaged with the library is by providing a 24/7 study space during exam week. At Swinburne Sarawak, the library organizes various activities annually to stay connected with its users. Before the pandemic, the library used to partner with on-campus vendors by providing free coffee during exam week and organizes a doodling corner to enable users to de-stress. This is on top of other fun activities that encourage engagement between students and the librarians, faculties members and administration staff.

Amid the pandemic, the library, through all the required Standard Operating Procedures (SOP), continues to connect and engage with its users. During Library Week, fun games, and activities such as Missing Your Library Photo Contest, Beat Your Stress Puzzles Challenge, and the Library App Mini quizzes were organized. This was on top of the poster exhibitions and live virtual sessions and workshops on Library Instructions, a session on Know the Liaison Librarians, and even a Find Out What You Need to Understand About Maintaining Academic Integrity session.

Students were also involved in the programs where they had the opportunity to display their talent and express themselves poetically through the Swinburne Poetry Competition, an activity co-organized with the School of Foundation Studies.

All these activities received positive feedback from students and staff alike, making it an attractive alternative venue to be part of when on campus.

All these indicate the significant role that libraries play within a community. Other than being a centre for keeping books and periodicals, libraries serve as the community’s nucleus where people get information and gather for social and cultural activities. This is on top of the educational resources that it provides.

Libraries support its users by enhancing their education, facilitating teaching and learning, helping develop reading and research skills, enable well-informed decision making and services development; including those of clinical and patient-centred care.

More importantly, librarian or information professional, as many of us prefer to be known, goes beyond our locality and geographical functions. Information professionals support and empower people. The pandemic and its monumental impact require librarians to be agile, adaptive, and flexible in delivering its services to patrons with innovations in learning and research. Far from just cataloguing, stamping, and shelving books, information professionals add value to their services especially those in the education, agriculture, health, and technology sector.

“How so? I can easily find all the information I need on the internet.” This is a common misconception in the 21st century.

Information professionals empower people through information literacy. They highlight the importance of what libraries can do that Google cannot do. Libraries provide personal assistance to those in search of and need information in all kinds of formats and settings. This information, many of which are freely available to its users, is already thoroughly organized by subjects and disciplines.

Being information literate also means users can evaluate information based on its credibility, relevance, authority, and accuracy. This is the major advantage of libraries, making them the main center for information that contributes to community empowerment through capacity building and learning support.

Changes are difficult but necessary as libraries continue to evolve in their services and to stay relevant in response to the changing needs of the next-gen as well as advancement in technology. No matter what the century, and especially when global disasters hit us, libraries and information professionals will continue to engage, educate, and empower the community. That was its initial purpose from the days of old and will continue to be so in years to come.

Dollyrissia Lainers is an Administrative Officer with the Information Resources (Library) and Library Liaison for the School of Research. She can be reached via email at dlainers@swinburne.edu.my