I am often asked whether the library at the Yale Club is ever used.
Are these books for show? Now that there are ebooks and the internet and Amazon, do people really use libraries anymore? Do we really need libraries anymore?
Some people ask me these questions with a wink – all of our members, of course, attended schools that house some of the best libraries in the world. Some want to challenge me. Some want to challenge tradition. Some want to be provocative. Libraries and librarianship as a profession are also continually wrestling with such questions. In a recent issue of American Libraries, the cover story was about “Forecasting the Future of Libraries.” The future of libraries is uncertain in part because, as Keith Michael Fiels, the executive director of the American Library Association summarizes, “study after study has found that many members of the public associate libraries with the past” when “Libraries were once the place where community members gathered to experience the exotic, new, and exciting.
And yet, even though I know these questions are asked in our field all the time, I am always surprised by them. In part, my surprise must come from the fact that I have always thought of a library as so much more than a place to get a book. I have known libraries as somewhere I could gather with others “to experience the exotic, new, and exciting.” For me, libraries have always been social spaces, full of future possibilities, where information and resources simply happen to be more readily at hand. I am a girl who met her best friend at our local public library’s Story Time when I was three. I started to become a theater geek, and paved the way for my first library job, when I performed in our Halloween Haunted Library Tour.
Even when I checkout ebooks online, I think about the books that are already checked out– and how other members of my community could be reading them at that moment. That knowledge makes me feel more a part of my library community.
Perhaps even more than other libraries, community is a crucial part of the mission of the Yale Club Library. Its collection was built to suit the tastes of the members, and many of our volumes were donated from personal libraries (for better or for worse). Moreover, The Yale Club of New York City is a social club. Our library is, on one hand, a quiet space and traditional lending library. But, on the other hand, it is also a part of the larger, living social organism in this century-old building.
So when people ask if anyone uses the Yale Club Library – and what they are really asking is “does anyone checkout books anymore?” – I am surprised. Our library is used every single day. Writers craft their novels. Members of our business community work from their laptops. Readers, indeed, enjoy magazines and books. And, I talk with many of these people on a daily basis. No – not all of our books are checked out regularly (as I noted last month, some just disappear). But we have the makings of vibrant communities here.
I say the “makings” of a communities, though, because our library still has a lot of work to do to foster the communities it is already serving. As a largely silent library, the members who work in the space every day do not necessarily get the chance to know the people on the club chair next to them. Some of my members like it that way, and that is a right I want to protect. But I also want those members who desire their library experience to be as social as their experiences elsewhere in the club to have the opportunity to make it so.
One of our largest untapped communities in the library is our graduate student population. We have so many members in the library working on seminar papers, theses, and dissertations. They attend many different schools, study many different fields, and use the library at many different times. They are here together, but I usually see them alone. And anyone who has been a graduate student, as I have been (too many times, perhaps) knows that it can be a lonely and isolating business, especially once coursework is over. But, it does not have to be.
So, I am calling all Yale Club graduate student members. I and a small band of your fellow students are putting together a working group. We are booking the Library Conference Room regularly as a dedicated study space (with a little bit more flexibility for chatting than the library usually offers), having tea and sympathy meetings, developing an interdisciplinary writing group, and trying to find mentors in different fields for those who are interested. This is the Library Committee’s and my first effort to foster the communities that have, until now, been silent in the library at the Yale Club.
If you are a graduate student member of the Yale Club and are interested in meeting (and maybe working) with other current students, email me: firstname.lastname@example.org or come to one of our sessions in the Library – hours and locations are posted on the Library Calendar on the club website: www.yaleclubnyc.org.