With the layout of the new library, the visibility of books on Kenyon’s campus will change. The library — referred to by the Kenyon website as Kenyon Commons — is slated for completion in the summer of 2020, but students arriving that fall will find only study spaces and classrooms on the upper three floors.
The main collection will be held primarily on the lower two levels. “Most of the collection will be in compact shelving, so it opens and closes,” Ronald Griggs, vice president of Library and Information Services (LBIS), said. “That’s where we get the increased capacity for the main collection.”
Compact shelving is considered open shelving, meaning that anyone can access it and browse at their leisure. Olin and Chalmers Memorial Library featured electronic compact shelving, inherited from The Ohio State University, on its first floor. Kenyon Commons’ compact shelves will be mechanical, accessed by turning a wheel.
Griggs says that this shelving will be more physically accessible. “The collection is [now] in order and that’s an accessibility issue — and the collection is easy to find — it won’t be stuck around corners,” he said. He also explained that moving compact shelving is made very easy by a series of gears, suggesting that people of all abilities will be able to turn the wheel using minimal force.
Some professors, however, have expressed concern about the visibility of books in the new library. “It was my understanding from conversations last spring that the plan for the library would have all the books essentially underground, and there were a number of faculty at Kenyon who were concerned about that,” Associate Professor of English and Department Chair Jene Schoenfeld said.
Schoenfeld thought that an understanding had been reached among the architects, LBIS and concerned faculty: “They have agreed to put books on the first floor in reading rooms: each subject will have an area with books available,” she said. When asked about this possibility, Griggs denied that this was the current plan, instead noting that LBIS is considering placing books in study spaces, such as a poetry room.
Schoenfeld said that although she understands the importance of providing space for studying and collaborative work, it is also crucial to display books.
“I’m a book nerd, and I’m an English professor, and I do think that it matters that books be visible in the library, ” Schoenfeld said. “Sometimes you don’t know what you’re looking for until you see it.”
“I know that there is this perception that compact shelving is not browsable,” said Amy Badertscher, library director and vice president of LBIS, “but I’ve talked to a lot of libraries where they have things on compact shelving and they say there’s no problem.”
Griggs identifies the changing image of the library as an aspect of modern scholarship: the interplay between electronic and print media changes relevance per discipline. “The reality is that circulating book collections are decreasing across libraries in general,” Badertscher said. “The number of books being borrowed is reduced.”