Physical Changes: Do Renovations Change the ‘Traditional’ Library?

Ashley Van Dijk

The main floor at Simon Fraser University Library in Burnaby is undergoing renovations this summer and into the fall. The most notable change with the renovation is the merging of the Loans and Reference counters. This brings both of the public services to one location, providing a one stop shop model for patrons. Previously Loans and Reference were on opposite sides of the floor; once the renovation is complete we will be sharing space while still functioning as separate departments.  What this means is that no longer will either department have to direct patrons across the floor to the other counter, and staff will able to collaborate to answer questions.

For example, this morning at the desk a patron was looking for a journal article. The article was not available in an electronic format, and the patron was directed to the Bound Journals section. At this point he asked if the journal could be taken out. I didn’t know: could it? Current journals can’t be borrowed, but what about the older ones? A quick look through the FAQs on the library homepage didn’t give me an answer. Thankfully, the Loans staff was there and I was able to ask my colleague if in fact bound journals could be borrowed. Oh yes, he replied, they can be, we just don’t advertise it. The patron was required to fill out a form, educated on the limited time the item the item could be borrowed, and left happy.

Without having my colleague there, I would have had to direct the patron to the Loans desk. There he would have probably have had to wait in line again. Having the Loans and Reference services points located on the same side of the building will, hopefully, provide better service to our patrons.

As the two spaces are collocating, I find myself thinking about what a “traditional” reference desk means, and in fact what a “traditional” library is.

A reference desk, now often called an information desk or research desk, was and is a place where patrons could seek out help. The desk is the place to go to have your questions answered and to be pointed in the right direction. Reference desk staff act as guides to the complexities of the library, helping to relieve a patron’s library anxiety.

Technology has dramatically changed how people create and access information. As Ogunsola (2011) wrote “[t]he library today is a technologically driven one that uses the principles of traditional library services to organize knowledge and communicate it to clients in the global community” (73). There are two parts of this quote that I think are applicable when looking at today’s library. The first is when it talks about managing the library using traditional principles, even though today’s libraries have a definite technological influence. The second is being able to have resources organized in a way that our patrons can find and access them, with the understanding that they are sometimes not in the same location as the library.

Patrons can access collections through the library’s website. Today’s student is often well versed in the realm of internet searching and utilizing technology for research purposes. Electronic collections are changing the way people access our services, and how patrons contact library staff for help. Email and reference chat has taken the place of long line ups at a Reference Desk. Online FAQs provide a place for patrons to find quick answers to questions relating to holds, fines, and hours, freeing up Reference Desk staff to assist with in-depth questions. Does this mean the end of the “traditional” library?

When I think of a library, I don’t think of it in terms or traditional or modern. A library is place to go – either physically or electronically – to look for and access information. Libraries and library staff have faced many format changes over time, and will continue to do so.

As discussed in the post Adventures in Rhetoric: The Traditional Library (Leeder, 2013) from the blog “In the Library with a Lead Pipe”, are traditional libraries dead? I would have to say no. Our physical spaces are changing, and polices may be adapting to evolving technology, yet the heart of a library and library service remains. Libraries are institutions built to serve the communities they reside in; whether a public, academic, or special library. Libraries have a history of changing for their community (Leeder, para. 5), otherwise they would become stagnant and irrelevant for patron needs.

The post written by Leeder quotes Donald T. Hawkins, “[t]radition is about evolution. Research libraries have existed for about 3,000 years. Traditional libraries have always adapted to change” (para. 13). To me this quote highlights how library services may be changing their tools, yet at their heart they are they are same as ever.

Works Cited

Leeder, Kim. (June 5, 2013). Adventures in rhetoric: The traditional library [blog post]. Retrieved from

Ogunsola, L.A. (2011). The new step in Librarianship: Is the traditional library dead? Library Philosophy & Practice, 69-75.


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