Opinion

The Idea Lab: Not an Ideal Image for Macalester

Walking from the first to the second floor of the library is like walking into another world. The reference texts and printing stations all vanish as you walk up the first flight of stairs, and what you’re met with doesn’t look like a library at all. For some, the fact that the college provides hot glue, Lego sets, squishy chairs, a loom and other hands-on crafts and activities comes as a welcome refreshment. To others, this change raises concerns about the new direction in which the library appears to be headed. The essential question I want to put forward is: what do we want our library to be?

A college library, to me, is a sacred place. It is an island of quiet, scholarship and curiosity. I find it the ideal place to study, read and write essays. I spend time walking the stacks and picking up eye-catching books, or I hole up in an individual study room. I know that no matter how busy I am, or how loud my apartment is, or how late I need to stay up, I can always find a place that feels separate from the outside world to sit down and get things done. In this way, a college library is the physical representation of our scholarly lives. It is an idealized place, the image of what it means to be “collegiate.” And for the most part, it lives up to this image where other parts of campus life don’t. For many, residential life becomes monotonous and constricting, on-campus dining options grow tiresome, once-intriguing classes feel dull as the semester drags on. The one thing that does remains constant is homework, and the necessity of finding a suitable place to finish it. For me, that place is the library.

The second floor, though, is a different place altogether. The books and quiet rooms are replaced with overwhelming noise, color and commotion. There are more markers, glue sticks, fabrics, and blocks than I would know what to do with. There is an excess of frivolity, an overabundance of messy playthings. This environment is not conducive to how people learn; rather, this is how people destress, forget their responsibilities and generally goof around. By this, I’m not saying that students shouldn’t have the ability to relax – what I do believe is that the specific dedication of an entire floor of the library to this kind of childishness is unacceptable, and lends the building a bad reputation.

This is not to say that it is impossible to be productive there. Some students appreciate the atmosphere, while others find the subsidizing of poster-making materials a big plus. But these examples are far and away overshadowed by the quantity of silliness the second floor tolerates. A cluttered table bears the sign “Creative Writing Space,” as if it were impossible elsewhere; a whiteboard asks passersby to comment on their experiences with cosplay; a note by a half-dismantled typewriter asks students to “tinker” with and clean it. These examples are indicative of a broader theme: the second floor is not “collegiate”, bur rather publicizes childishness; the space is not the breeding-ground of “ideas”, but the very lack of them.

These issues are compounded by the fact that the floor seems to operate independently from the rest of the library. The staff at the front desk keeps no inventory of the materials on the second floor, nor do the staff on the floor itself. The transition from books to baubles brought with it a disorganization and mismanagement unfit to be housed in an academic building. The college administration would doubtless be facing significantly less pushback if it had decided to open the Idea Lab in Kagin or in the Campus Center. Students’ disapproval at the second floor’s remodeling would certainly have been diminished if the remodeling had not come at the cost of thousands of books.

And so I return to the question at hand: what do we want our library to be? I want to show prospective students that our lives are academically rigorous. I want us to communicate to ourselves and our faculty our dedication to scholarship and hard work. I want a library that prides itself on its collections of books, not its collection of crafts. I am not alone in this. I worry about the image the second floor is giving to both the library and the college at large.

And so, for the time being, I will happily work on the third floor.

Contributing Writer

April 19, 2018

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