Empowering Students to Discover Collections


At Brandeis University, StackMap has made students feel more autonomous in the library. We talked with Brenda Cummings, Director of Public Services, about how StackMap has become a necessary guide for navigating uniquely organized collections and an encouraging tool for users who are just getting to know the stacks. 

We really love StackMap here. I open StackMap 5-10 times a day at minimum. It’s really big for us because our building is not A to Z organized; we have unique collections. So, for example, our Judaica collection is the Bs, DSs, and the PJs, which are on one floor but the rest of the Ps and the Ds are on two different floors, so for our users our collection is really confusing. We’re also a really old building with a lot of solid walls so there’s not a line of sight to a lot of the collections. With the way that our collection is organized and the way that our catalog displays things, it can sometimes be really overwhelming to users. 

We have a little over a million volumes. We’re a pretty big library for the number of students that we have here. There are a lot of collections that are behind desks or behind service points. It’s all discoverable in our system, and then StackMap helps the user know that they should go to a desk or they have to talk to archives and special collections in order to get it. We’ve also been able to put some custom language in our maps so that it’s a little more obvious to our users. 

Before we had StackMap, it was really confusing for our users, especially with that Judaica collection where the Ds are down on the lower floor and the DSs are up on a higher floor — it’s not intuitive for the users. And there’s this level of frustration because there are four floors in between those two collections, so it was quite common for someone to come to the desk and say these items don’t exist and all the DSs are missing. It was a huge barrier to our users, and it caused them to not trust us and to be frustrated. 

StackMap is an empowerment thing for us. We want our users to be able to access the collection and not have to ask us. It’s not that we’re not happy to be there, but we want the students to feel like this is as much their collection as it is the library’s, so it’s important for us to have them have that discovery in the stacks. However, the barrier is getting a 21st century student into the stacks. Younger students are much more comfortable in the digital than in the physical, which is why getting them to explore the library is so important.

-Brenda Cummings, Brandeis University Library