Seeing with Social Eyes: How a Motivated Staff Transformed a Little Used College Library into a Center for Campus Activity

Article excerpt

Library fines got you down? Help build our Facebook page to 500 people & I'll waive fines of two students." This message streamed across the Luria Library's Twitter feed. In less than 140 characters, it perfectly portrays the playful and forgiving nature of its library director, and demonstrates the rising value of social capital, which just might outweigh the penalty for a few overdue books.

Kenley Neufeld has led the Luria Library at Santa Barbara (Calif.) City College for the past three years. During this time usage has doubled and the library has grown from being what he calls "little used and simply dismissed," into "a center for student activity on campus." This shift included the expansion of technology services, the installation of a cafe, and the development of more flexible workspace. However, the transformation hasn't simply been physical but also includes new attitudes. "Taking down signs that prohibited talking and eating has been critical to our success," Neufeld says. "We want to provide an environment that is conducive for social learning." Additionally, he has worked with his staff to present a more open and inviting demeanor when interacting with patrons.

Faculty is key

This library's openness is strongly influenced by Neufeld's mindfulness. "It is really important to remain in a calm state; when chaos happens you have to stay balanced and not get drawn in emotionally." Neufeld strives to be neutral and helps guide conversations, but not dominate them. "As a leader I can't get too attached to a particular outcome. I have to be open to all possibilities." This creates an environment that not only encourages experimentation but nurtures it as well.

This is evident in Luria Library's approach to technology. Despite having offered text-message reference for years, librarians found that there is an increasing demand for assistance via chat. The staff switched back and forth between several chat clients before finally settling on Library H31p. Neufeld is philosophical about failure. "It's OK if things don't work out as planned. We can grow together by learning what works and what doesn't," he says. …