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I heard a story yesterday, from a faculty member in the College of Education, about the renovation of Atkins library in the late 1990s. During that renovation, the two separate pieces of the library, the original building (opened in 1964), and the tower (completed in 1972), were to be connected by a wrap-around structure (what is now the ground-3rd floors of the library). A new brick facade would make the three structures feel connected aesthetically as well as physically.
The original plan was to use a state-of-the-art method to face the building with bricks: a top-down method! The entire campus witnessed the bricks being put on, the facade creeping down the building.
Finally it was finished. Except then, the bricks started to fall off.
The facade had to be replaced, this time with a less-revolutionary (but more effective) bottom-up approach to laying the brick surface.
Top-down didn’t work! I love this as a metaphor for how a library, and indeed a university should function. Attention needs to be paid to the grass-roots actions and needs of the university community: students, faculty, and staff alike. Out of an understanding of those everyday priorities can arise effective policies. That is a large part of the rationale for the Atkins Ethnography Project–to ground the decisions we make as a library in a fine-grained knowledge of what our patrons are doing, what they think they need, and what we can effectively provide.