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A Critical Summer Service for Students and Community Patrons

This weekend I faced a difficult decision; one which I will likely face repeatedly for the next couple months: should I go to work? The question wasn’t really about my work obligation – I typically work during the day, Monday thru Friday. The underlying issue causing me to question a trip to work on my days off has been this heat, and how inescapable it feels. I live in the central Willamette Valley in a medium-sized apartment and, like many others with similar living arrangements throughout the state, my unit has no air conditioning. For the first day of the weekend I was able to escape the brunt of the heat, winding around breezy Newport for most of the day.

But today was Sunday, and I had writing responsibilities to take care of. All the windows were closed by 9 am and the electrical fans were on full power – it was all futile. By noon, my energy was sapped and the thought of a warm laptop anywhere near me was a sickening idea. It was already ninety degrees outside and predicted to reach a high of one-hundred. The future forecast looked just a dreary and there would be no respite any time soon. Needless to say, I lost a lot of willpower that day. I still completed my tasks, but I wasn’t able to focus in earnest until late into the evening. When I finally went to bed well past midnight, I was dismayed at how hot it still was.

As I trudged through the front doors of the library this morning, I was awash in a relieving sensation. The building’s air conditioning was already churning out cold air and it acted as a salve for my lingering temperament. Even as I sit at my desk now, the low hum of air from the ceiling vents is comforting. I know of at least one coworker who purposely works in their office space long into the night hours during the summer as a means of refuge from their own hot, non-A/C apartment, and I’m beginning to consider the same.

In all walks of librarianship, we think about the library as “place”, but in an increasingly turbulent world, libraries are increasingly seen as a place of refuge for patrons. When it comes to extreme heat or cold, our public libraries take center stage, and rightfully so. In the past couple month, there have been news articles from across the country (1, 2, 3) directing people to specific locations, many of them public libraries, as a designated places to stay cool. When an HVAC unit goes out, it becomes imperative to fix the problem so that patrons can once again utilize library services and space (4, 5).

For those of us in academia, library buildings are also a place for refuge, not just for our students, but for our communities as well. When I come to work in the morning, staff aren’t the only individuals there – typically a dozen or so students are already in the library printing off materials before their morning classes or settling in for study time. Many of those students live near campus in units without air conditioning, or even in on-campus dorms, which certainly do not have AC. Every day I see members of our community in the library as well, using computer resources, reading, or meeting. A few of our regulars will even comment on how hot it is outside, and remain in our building for as long as possible.

For all the benefits our patrons derive from academic libraries, I’ve always, incorrectly, associated the idea of refuge with public libraries – even though I was personally involved in a discussion on keeping our own library open longer hours during a heatwave last year. Upon critical reflection, refuge from the weather isn’t something we’ve advertised in the past, and I’d like to change that. This is also a call out to the academic community –Today, I plan on getting in contact with the housing division in order to distribute leaflets advertising our hours and location for refuge from the heat for all students living on campus this term. Some flyers and sandwich boards around campus should help as well.

Finally, I’d like to pose a question to our readership:

Have you ever explicitly advertised your library in a physical way (i.e. poster, leaflet, or image-based announcement) to draw in patrons to take advantage of free air conditioning (or heating)?

If so, please submit them to Christopher Mansayon with the subject line: ‘summer refuge’, and we’ll highlight/share the submissions on the ACRL-OR blog at a later date.

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