Last week, The Mac Weekly included an opinion article expressing distaste for the Idea Lab. The article focused on the chaotic and childish nature of the space, lack of organization and the need for a more “collegiate” focus in our library. I would like to recognize that Noah Elkins, the author of the article, is entitled to his own opinion. I appreciate this distinction throughout the piece, as I believe it is important for the productivity of this dialogue.
With that said, I could not disagree more with last week’s column. I’ll be the first to admit that the Idea Lab is not perfect, but that does not mean it’s not valuable.
Walking upstairs to the second floor of the library, you do enter another world, a world that may not subscribe to the stereotypical definition of what you know as a library. Rather, you enter a place that marries arts and collaboration, and has increased library traffic by over 20% in the past eight months. It is a space that reflects the fact that more computers than books were checked out by Macalester students in the 2017-2018 school year. It is a space where people converse about everything from Photoshop tips to basic income.
As an employee of the Idea Lab, I feel that many of the criticisms in last week’s article were misguided. I recognize Noah’s and others’ need for a quiet study spot on campus! These spaces are necessary to accommodate learning. However, the Idea Lab did not do away with quiet areas. Rather, it gave a neutral space for groups to convene, not dominated by one group on campus. While room to study in solitude is imperative, there are four more floors in the library with ample space to be ‘scholarly’ and succumb to the beauty of a good book.
Personally, I find the argument claiming the Idea Lab as nothing more than a space stocked with frivolous playthings, or an environment ‘not conducive to how people learn’ could not be more off-base. As I write this article, I watch someone construct a physical board for her coding project, mapping the migration patterns of certain populations using GIS software. I see a costuming and performance class sewing clothes for their upcoming performances, utilizing the space as their current theater and dance building is currently under construction. I see a group of four students doing a watercolor project, just for fun. Maybe these examples don’t scream “scholarly” to some, but I would argue that projects like these embody what Macalester is all about. Art can be scholarly, and a space that promotes collaboration and non-traditional learning styles is effective in moving our college forward.
As a student employee of the Idea Lab, I won’t pretend I know where every glue stick or paintbrush resides. What I will say, in response to the point about lack of organization, is that we put time and effort into helping people access whatever they need, whenever they need it. We do, in fact, have an inventory. We track what we bring in, and when we need more of it. I encourage anyone who wants to learn more about the resources in the Idea Lab to walk in, look around and ask for help.
If you’re looking for the books, you can head to the basement to find the relocated music and art collection, or to the third and fourth floors for other previous second floor tenants. These were books that had not been checked out in over fifteen years, are available in at least three Minnesota libraries and are owned by at least 100 libraries in the United States. This process is not finalized until a list is sent out to Macalester staff, where they can request titles they would like to keep. ‘Bound journals’ that took up copious amounts of space are still available through interlibrary loan, and a simple search with a librarian will have a digital copy in your hands within a few days. I would never condone a Fahrenheit 451-like onslaught on literature, and that is not what the remodel was. The creative space on the second floor gives the Macalester community a place to implement their own ideas, write their own stories and cross paths with people they may not find between the bookcases.
I’m not against quiet study spaces, I utilize them myself. I acknowledge the importance of books; the library needs literature, of course. What I am against is a mentality that belittles the mission of something that helps our college thrive, something that caters to people who may not have had an outlet. The Idea Lab brings people together from all corners of campus, breeding curiosity and conversation. The Idea Lab, and the second floor as a whole, serve a purpose on our campus, and while criticism and continuous improvement are necessary, we should also consider the value of what we are criticizing.
I am happy to discuss the Idea Lab with anyone, as I think it is imperative we continue the dialogue and hear all perspectives. Feel free to email me, or say hi in my few weeks left on campus.