Roadtrip to the U Mich Libraries

On Wednesday, the Library Interns had a special treat. On of my fellow interns, Liz, has a mentor in the University of Michigan libraries. Our fantastic bosses gave us the day off to go down to Ann Arbor for a tour and some Q&A time with the Art and Architecture librarians.

It was really fantastic to see a library system that was very different from my home institution. The University of Michigan buildings are beautiful. They have the air of history in them, you can just imagine millions of students over hundreds of years sitting in the reading room and studying.

Reading Room

Even though it was summer, the libraries were not empty, and all the usual sights were there– lounging and/or sleeping students, studiously reading students, students who were noisy, students who gave us dirty looks for speaking in their presence.

They have two main libraries, one for undergraduates and one for graduate students. Originally the difference was mainly in the collection, the undergrad more general, the graduate more field specific, but students have always been free to check out material from both. Now, nearly all the books are housed in the graduate library, and the undergrad library is more of an Information Commons. It contains mostly group study space, reference assistance and dedicated assistance for software like Adobe. It also has a big cafe, with tables for eating, food and coffee. There was an area for groups to plug in their laptops to a big screen to work collectively, and all the furniture was brightly colored and inviting.

Large screens for group study

Comfy Chairs

*****Things I particularly liked*****

The reference desks were low. Low desks just seem more inviting. Approaching a high desk always makes me feel like Oliver asking “Please, Sir, I want some more.” It also gives the person at the reference desk a better view of the room, so they can look up when patrons approach them and patrons don’t feel like they’re interrupting.

There were tables with plug ins EVERYWHERE. It was clearly built with laptops in mind. There were also a lot of lamps and many comfy chairs. The spaces were designed to be used both by individuals and by groups wanting to work together.


The signing was clear, minimal and attractive. It was very easy to tell what areas of the library where designated to what. The first floors of most of the buildings were designated space for study and socialization and there were clear areas for quiet study.

The architecture librarian showed us around and answered a lot of questions about her special collection, collection management and student usage. She showed us their new collection of physical objects and…

original systems for playing

… THE VIDEO AND COMPUTER GAME LIBRARY!!! In which I super geeked out and wanted to play ALL. THE. GAMES.


I also got a chance to pop over to the music library and just check out their set up. Again, the first floor was mostly study space, while the books were on two upper levels. The scores were on the second level and the “booky books”  (as I like to call them) are on a third level.

second and third levels

I think that is really smart because I spend half of my life talking to patrons who come to the desk informing me that “this book isn’t on the shelf” when they are looking in the scores for a book or in the books for a score. With them on different floors the way U Mich has them, the librarians can say “it’s on the 2nd level” instead of trying to explain that it’s on the far stacks down past the folios, or whatever. Predictably, their collection was also quite a lot bigger than ours. There were cubby spaces on the 2nd and 3rd levels for more quiet study in addition to the large tables on the main level. The downside to this set up would be a lot of climbing stairs or taking elevators both for the patrons and the librarians, and three levels would be difficult to monitor. Being able to see more of the stacks means that I’m able to see when a patron is obviously lost or confused. I don’t think that would be the case with a multi-level set up.

All in all it was a great trip. I learned a lot about architecture libraries and was very interested to see a system so different from the one in which I work.

Old Books!!

We had a fun road trip, rocking out to 90’s music and reading (we are librarians after all) and it was super nice of Liz’s mentor to take us around and for our bosses to give us the day. The University of Iowa Library has been renovating the bottom floor to be more of an Information Commons. I am really interested to see what they have done while I’ve been away at Interlochen.

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