Increasing Accessibility and Awareness

Alice Lu
December 17, 2015

Taking a literature class (21L.715) that heavily involved use of MIT’s libraries, specifically the Special Collections and Institute Archives, has given me some ideas and recommendations that might help with MIT’s restructuring of the libraries.

I have noticed that accessibility and awareness play large roles in students’ interactions with MIT libraries. Many of my friends are not aware of the incredible collection of rare books MIT has and are often surprised that there is an Institute Archives and Special Collections. (One friend even asked what MIT might do with rare books and why we have them at all! Of course, I promptly described my literature class and the amazing material we have been working with). While the Maihaugen Gallery is an excellent way of showcasing the works of the Special Collections, it is hidden in a room off of a hallway and is open during times when students are often in class. In fact, my first visit to the gallery was through my literature class despite having passed the (closed) door many times on the way to the library at night, and I was amazed to discover the resources within. Incorporating displays in a space where students often frequent, are aware of, and can go into outside of classroom times, may help spread awareness of the wonderful collections that MIT has.

Another solution of addressing accessibility problems is digitization. Digital copies can easily provide access to texts that may otherwise be difficult to access. However, there are problems that accompany this solution. The first is that a digital copy can never replicate the real object, and information can be lost (for example, size of object, binding structure, watermarks, palimpsests). I want to address another issue altogether. A guest speaker of my class brought up an interesting point. The professor actually came upon the manuscript he was currently studying while browsing. Okay, not actually “browsing”. He was trying to find another page that initially interested him, but stumbled upon this page that caught his interest and ended up playing a large role in his research. As he pointed out, this would not have been possible with a digitized version of the manuscript. Searching online for the digital version, he would have only come across the page he was initially interested in. Thus, my proposal is this: creating a suggestions box. In addition to the results that may come up from a search of the digital collections of the library, providing suggestions of other works that might be interesting or relevant (with a visual, digitized representation) may address this problem and stimulate interest in other works in the MIT libraries.

These are only a few suggestions and things I’ve learned about the MIT Libraries during the course of my literature class. However, a way to learn more is to go to the library! I urge you all to visit Special Collections and/or the Maihaugen Gallery at some time during your MIT career. There are wonderful things inside!

Note: I am also writing this for a class (mentioned above), 21L.715: Media in Cultural Context.

Why do you care about library spaces, collections, and services?: 

Because I like to read and discover. The MIT libraries have so much information and knowledge just waiting to be revealed, and I want more people to share my love of reading and discovering curious things.