Robert Adams, Associate Director of the Library, Boston Architectural College
Dana Sly, Instruction Librarian, Boston Architectural College
Amy Trendler, Architecture Librarian, Ball State University Libraries
Why a Pop-Up Library?
The flexible content and format of the pop-up library make it adaptable to many different purposes and situations, and for the Boston Architectural College (BAC) Library and the Architecture Library at Ball State University the pop-up has proven to be a great way of reaching out to those in the schools’ practice-based studio programs. By taking the library to where students and faculty members are, the pop-up library helps reach groups that may not be regularly visiting the architecture library in its home space or making use of the library’s collections and services.
Where Does the Library Pop Up?
Inspired by projects in other art and architecture libraries including a pop-up library at the Alfred R. Goldstein Library at the Ringling College of Art & Design, the summer studio mobile library at the Frances Loeb Library at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, and the in-studio reserves from the Architecture Library at the University of Maryland, the libraries at the BAC and Ball State have been popping up in studios, classrooms, busy public spaces, and special events. These have included:
- Studios. Each semester, the BAC hosts a “studio lottery” for incoming, advanced-level architecture students. Faculty give brief presentations on the different thesis topics to be offered that semester, and students rank their top studio choices. Students are then assigned to a topic through a lottery system. Librarians attend these studio lotteries with a mobile library and make note of the various project topics offered in each studio. This gives students and faculty the opportunity to browse a portion of the library’s collection and allows the librarians to incorporate the knowledge of studio topics into collection development and information literacy strategies. Librarians and faculty also discuss how the library may support each studio and make plans for individual studio pop-ups.
- Classrooms. The Architecture Library at Ball State popped up in an architecture seminar class where students had been tasked with finding books on their group topics to use in presentations. While students browsed the cart and the instructor spoke with students who had questions about the assignment, the librarian made an effort to talk with each group to see if they were finding what they needed on the cart or to suggest ways to find other books on their topic.
- Busy public spaces. In the Architecture Building at Ball State, the pop-up library has been appearing in the building’s atrium during the lunch hour before the college’s studio classes start. Students and faculty members coming and going from lunch are encouraged to browse the new books or stop by to look at books selected to fit with an array of ongoing studio projects.
- Special events. The BAC Library hosted a pop-up library during the school’s last National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) accreditation visit. The NAAB visiting team members were very impressed with both the selection of items on display from the collection and the idea of the pop-up library itself. The BAC librarians also recently attended a lecture on prison design at the school. They created a hybrid pop-up library that combined both circulating collection and special collections material. This mobile library visit featured the library’s 1761 Carceri d’invenzione by Giovanni Battista Piranesi displayed on the top tier of the cart, with circulating material on the shelves below.
What Makes the Pop-up Library Work?
Pop-up or mobile libraries are customizable to suit the needs of a particular situation or event. There are, however, a few general guidelines that we follow in order to make the mobile libraries functional.
- Selection. First, we compile a list of relevant titles suited to the subject, audience, and desired purpose of the pop-up event in question. The subjects and audiences will, of course, vary each time the mobile library is assembled. For instance, book lists compiled for class visits at the BAC often feature duplicates of titles placed on reserve for that class and additional items relevant to that class’s theme or focus. Many courses in the design field are organized around several case studies – and so, when pulling materials for the mobile cart, we aim to collect information relevant to those specific projects.
- Collaboration. The pop-up library can be an opportunity to collaborate with instructors and students. Meeting or corresponding with an instructor or affiliate group (such as student government) before bringing a mobile library to the classroom allows for both library and faculty to request and recommend materials that suit the interests and projects of students. In addition to incorporating titles requested by faculty, this collaboration also provides librarians with the opportunity to recommend materials that might not be on the instructor or affiliate group’s radar. At the BAC, several times a faculty member has also checked out a book from the mobile cart and remarked on the scope of the cart’s (and the library’s) collection of compiled resources.
- Checkout. Once items are selected for the cart, they are checked out to an administrative library account. This may be a user account specifically designed for the pop-up, or it may be the individual account of the librarian (or librarians) conducting the pop-up. By charging each item out to the librarian, it marks the materials as unavailable to those who may be in the library at the time of the pop-up, and makes note of the book’s use for circulation statistics.
- Display and transportation. Items are then arranged on a rolling library cart in an attractive display. A visually appealing display is one that draws attention to the cart, is lush enough to encourage browsing, but one that is not overcrowded or overwhelming. Depending on the scenario, you may wish to select between a one- or two-sided cart. A two-sided cart allows for students to circulate the entire cart and maximizes the number of students who may use the cart at once. If periodicals or narrower, less structured materials are featured on the cart, however, a one-sided cart may be more appropriate and provide more stability. At Ball State, the library has acquired two tall AV carts that can display many books or magazines on book easels.
* It is important to consider the intent of a pop-up in the design of your cart. When planning a mobile library for a public area, such as the Ball State Architecture Library’s biweekly atrium pop-ups, a table or several carts allow for a more spread out display. It may be also important to visit the space ahead of time. Visualizing how the pop-up will occupy the space will help determine the size of your display and the number of carts or tables.
* It may be that your library pop-up is occurring in a separate building, or in a space that requires the cart to travel a farther distance than a simple ride on the elevator or stroll down the hall. In these cases, you may wish to pack your books and display material and assemble the cart on site for safety and ease of transit. A cart with sturdy wheels is a must when moving between buildings. Never turn down an extra set of hands to help navigate obstacles with the cart!
- Mobile checkout. Finally, a pop-up library needs some method of checking materials out to patrons. If technology permits, some may like to include a laptop loaded with your ILS software and a mobile scanner. However, a simple notepad and pen will suffice. When patrons wish to check out an item, the librarian makes note of their library barcode number and the barcodes of the materials they wish to check out.
- After the pop-up. Once the library cart returns to the library, items are charged to the patrons who checked out materials during the pop-up. Then, any remaining material is discharged and the library account double-checked to make sure that all materials have been accounted for.
- Giveaways. For the Ball State Architecture Library’s pop-ups in the atrium at lunch time, the primary goal is outreach and visibility. In addition to providing a selection of books for checkout, the pop-up often features giveaways ranging from the Architecture Library’s coloring bookmarks (with library hours and contact information on the back) or candy to university library-branded water bottles and pens. Mobile libraries at the Boston Architectural College have featured giveaways of a different sort. After noting that periodical circulation had significantly decreased, the librarians brought a selection of free, duplicate copies of library periodicals down to the ground floor of the main building during a new student welcome week event. These duplicates were given away to students for free while the librarians spoke with students about the library’s periodical collections available for use.
Where Will the Library Pop Up Next?
The flexible content and format of the pop-up library make it adaptable to many different purposes and situations, and the librarians at the BAC and the Architecture Library at Ball State have plans for more pop-ups that capitalize on variations in timing, location, or collaborations.
- In terms of timing, special events such as guest lectures, welcome week, and finals week all lend themselves to different kinds of pop-ups focused on a subject, new or interesting materials, and stress-relievers or last-minute project needs. The Architecture Library at Ball State already has plans for a pop-up library at finals time that will feature various relaxing activities such as flipping through a design magazine and time-saving items available for checkout such as phone chargers and flash drives.
- Locations elsewhere in the building or across campus offer another kind of opportunity. In the six-story BAC building the elevator bank is the perfect location for a mobile library that will take advantage of students’ and faculty members’ wait times and turn it into library material browsing time.
- Collaborations are planned with academic departments at the BAC and with student organizations at both schools. The BAC librarians plan to bring the mobile library to the college’s biweekly departmental curriculum meetings. This will allow the librarians to showcase new and relevant books to deans and faculty. They also plan to bring new books to the college’s monthly All Staff meeting in order to reach out to employees outside the education department, who may not realize that the library supports them as well. Pop-ups coordinated with student groups’ events such as PARK(ing) Day and student organizations’ fundraiser sales are in the works at both libraries.
Finally, pop-up libraries are due to pop up in assessment, although we are still working out the details on what this will look like. In our experience, the value of the pop-up goes beyond strictly quantifiable numbers such as the items checked out, and it doesn’t fall neatly into the kinds of statistics kept at a reference desk. Anecdotally, instructors at the BAC have reported that students have gotten better grades on their projects after a visit from the mobile library. The trick is to capture such observations in a meaningful way. Ideally, we can demonstrate through assessment what we have observed in practice. Namely that the pop-up or mobile library is a successful outreach tool for architecture libraries.