Making a Third Space for Student Voices in Two Academic Libraries

James Elmborg, Heidi LM Jacobs, Kelly McElroy, Robert L. Nelson


When we think of voices in the library, we have tended to think of them as disruptive, something to control and manage for the sake of the total library environment. The stereotype of the shushing librarian pervades public perception, creating expectations about the kinds of spaces libraries want to create. Voices are not always disruptive, however. Indeed, developing an academic voice is one of the main challenges facing incoming university students, and libraries can play an important role in helping these students find their academic voices. Two initiatives at two different academic libraries are explored here: a Secrets Wall, where students are invited to write and share a secret during exam time while seeing, reading, commenting on the secrets of others; and a librarian and historian team-taught course called History on the Web, which brings together information literacy and the study of history in the digital age. This article examines both projects and considers how critical perspectives on voice and identity might guide our instructional practices, helping students to learn to write themselves into the university. Further, it describes how both the Secrets Wall and the History on the Web projects intentionally create a kind of “Third Space” designed specifically so students can enter it, negotiate with it, interrogate it, and eventually come to be part of it.

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