LISNewsterz: Tell Us About Your Experience Is With Joint-Use Libraries

As the current poll seems to have piqued our readers interests on both sides of the issue of joint-use libraries (public libraries and high school libraries sharing a facility), I'd like to ask you to please chime in with your knowledge/experience of currently operating joint-use libraries both in the US and elsewhere.

Do you, or did you ever work in a joint-use library? How does/did it work for both constituencies? What do/did you find to be the pros and cons? Please respond by adding a comment to this story, and let us know the approximate location, size and staffing of the library, and any other information/opinion you'd like to add.

Thanks LISNewsterz for your participation!

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No Success Story

Do you, or did you ever work in a joint-use library? I worked in several joint-use libraries that were part of a County system in Southern California. Most of the impressions below are based on one in particular (that with which I had the most experience) that had recently been purpose-built to join the very small high school and local branch libraries. The school had approximately 1200 students. The library was budgeted for (in FTE) 1.5 librarians, 2 assistants, and 3 pages. Note that my position was as a library assistant sub, frequently called in even when no one was absent because the library simply needed more staff to be run effectively.

How does/did it work for both constituencies? Not remarkably well. There's no doubt that the joint-use facility provided patrons with a larger, newer, and more varied collection. However, we lost many non-high-school patrons, especially seniors, to the next nearest branch (at which I also worked) because of the noise and general rambunctiousness of a library full of teenagers. On numerous occasions I witnessed potential patrons step into the library, get hit by the wall of noise and activity, and immediately leave. Some regulars changed their visiting habits to the early morning and late evening when students were less likely to be present. Who know how many left off going to libraries altogether?

Why was it so noisy? In part, because the library manager - usually the sole librarian on staff - was overwhelmed. The branch had (and has) frequent manager turnover because of the low pay and high stress. The school administration and the county library system administration demand very different and sometimes conflicting duties from the manager. S/he also must maintain two separate budgets and go through two separate collection development approval processes. We lost the one manager that could handle all this *and* deal with the kids after a year. To an unfortunate extent, staff were at the mercy of the management style.

Staff had also to deal with enforcing a separate set of rules for the highschoolers. Students aren't allowed to use public computers during school hours; they aren't allowed to sit at the tables on one side of the library; they must turn in their student ID card upon entering the library; etc. Of course, the kids tried to circumvent these rules at every turn. It was chaos.

What were the pros? As mentioned above, community and high school got a shiny, new building and a much larger collection. Everyone in the County system benefited from the latter because of the shared catalog. A few students had the desire and initiative to work as student assistants and a couple of those were hired by the library after graduation. If the part-time reference librarian position could’ve been kept filled, I’m sure the students would’ve benefited. (As it was, the reference section had no one to watch over it and was gutted by thievery. But I digress.)

Perhaps, the benefits to these students – who reside in a poorer, low-literacy area – will show themselves over time. Staff certainly tried to encourage the slightest bit of interest in reading or research. The moral of the story is probably that though joint-use libraries can work, they really need a full staff and a good, friendly-but-firm manager.

Re:No Success Story- Here is a success story

I work in a joint use library in the suburbs of Houston and it has worked out well. Although we are a community college & a county library. Our biggest drawback is the noise,but that is made worse by our beautiful building that spreads sound like a opera house. The biggest positive is the wonderful collection available to students & the public, plus a wider variet yof elctronic resources that both users often take advantage of.

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