Academic Libraries Serve the Public in Surprising Ways

Did you know can probably access your local university or college library for free?

Did you know can probably access your local university or college library for free?

Think about college and university libraries. You might picture places of research and study, with students and faculty writing papers and prepping for exams. But these hubs of learning are so much more.

They are museums of history, art, and literature. They are places to discover, be inspired, or enjoy a beautiful, quiet retreat. Even better is that countless academic libraries open their doors and resources to the public, with no tuition required.


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Northern Arizona University’s Cline Library has a long-standing and robust relationship with the regional community, according to the library’s head of User Services and Experience, Andrew See.

“As the distinctive academic library in Northern Arizona, our expertise, collections, services, and spaces elevate learning, scholarship, creativity, and innovation for NAU and the regional community,” says See. “Quite frankly, the Cline Library is just a nice place to visit, meet with friends, and engage in learning and discussion.”

Cline Library is one of many academic libraries across the country to offer vast public resources for research, learning, entertainment, and more.

Stunning Spaces for Reading, Working, or Relaxing

Not surprisingly, academic libraries offer ample space to study or read. Many welcome the public to enjoy study halls, reading rooms, computer work areas, and quiet corners tucked among the stacks. You’ll find flexible and comfortable spaces, often with access to free Wi-Fi and even computers.

Beyond the workspaces are the beautiful designs of the buildings themselves. Many boast stunning architecture that awes and inspires, from modern and traditional to Gothic styles. Imagine reading beneath soaring domed ceilings as rainbow light streams through colorful stained glass. It’s like spending time in a piece of history or on the pages of an architecture magazine.

Architectural Digest compiled a list of 15 Stunning University Libraries Around the World You Need to See. Featured on the list was the University of Washington’s Suzzallo Library. Like most UW libraries, Suzzallo welcomes community visitors to enjoy its space, beauty, and on-site resources.
“Suzzallo/Allen is the largest library in our system. It is known for its distinctive architecture and the large Reading Room on the 3rd floor,” says Alyssa Deutschler, librarian at UW Libraries. “The Reading Room is a beautiful space and has become a tourist attraction for Seattle visitors!”

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On-Site and Online Resources Fuel Discovery

So, what can you find at an academic library? Books. Millions of books. Textbooks. Comic books. Rare collections. Shelves also brim with journals, manuscripts, sheet music, photographs, public records, government documents, and historical newspapers. These print resources are often open to browse on-site or even borrow. Some libraries offer community borrowing for a fee. Like the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) University Library, others provide free courtesy cards to community members.

“The library embodies the University’s land grant values and strengthens its commitment to societal and global impact by providing access to its collections and services,” says Heather Murphy, Chief Communications Officer for UIUC University Library. Online resources are just as vast as print offerings. Explore your lineage with genealogy resources. Take a trip back in time with digitized historical photos and newspapers. Access academic journals, databases, and archives without an expensive subscription. Some digital content is limited to on-site use and can be accessed with publicly available computers or personal devices.

There is so much knowledge waiting to be unearthed at the library, and your number one resource is the librarian. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. These experts are excited to share their knowledge. Many libraries offer reference services to anyone by calling, coming in, or asking questions online.

Unique Exhibitions and Community Events

Continue your quest for discovery at literary and art exhibitions. Get an up-close look at historical documents and correspondence, rare books, special collections, movie scripts, and manuscripts. Some libraries also showcase artistic installations, murals, and rotating exhibits.

Indiana University Bloomington (IUB) calls its Lilly Library “one of its great rare books libraries.” IUB welcomes all intellectually curious visitors to explore millions of literary artifacts, including centuries-old documents. With its exhibitions available online, you don’t have to travel to Indiana or even leave your house to read George Washington’s letter accepting the presidency or learn about the literary inspirations of children’s games.​
Public events and classes are another way academic libraries include the community in their offerings. Get behind-the-book insight at author talks. Enjoy film and lecture series and performances. Take classes in crafting or technology.

You may even find community access to substantive technology and creative spaces like the MakerLab at NAU’s Cline Library and CATalyst Studios at the University of Arizona University Libraries. These collaborative workspaces offer public access and programming. Visitors can learn skills and create using state-of-the-art technology and equipment for 3D printing, audio/visual recording, sewing, and other crafty or STEM-related endeavors.

As you can see, if you have a college or university library in your area, it’s worth checking out. You may be surprised at the fantastic offerings available for you to enjoy.