Report from the ILA/ACRL Spring Conferece at St. Ambrose U., March 3, 2008 (pt. 1)
Keynote speaker Dr. Roberto Ibarra (U. of New Mexico) addressed the conference theme: Activating Advocacy: the Many Roles of Academic Libraries. His presentation was excellent and focused on what he calls "context diversity." He pointed out that U.S. academic culture is rooted in a northern European/Germanic model which is problematic for students who come from different cultural backgrounds. He discussed the concepts of Low Context and High Context cultures and talked about how students from High Context cultural backgrounds are less likely to pursue an education that requires them to operate in uncomfortable settings. For example, native American students often have a very difficult time with the idea of individual self-promotion. These students don't want to be recognized as being special or better than the rest of their class. Something as basic as the way our classrooms are designed is very unsettling (why aren't the chairs in a circle?), etc.
Libraries, however, are often the place on a campus where these High Context students feel most comfortable. (This, of course, is easy to see on our campus.) Ibarra exhorted his audience to continue in this direction and to encourage our institutions to be more responsive to the needs of students from different backgrounds. He didn't argue that everything should change dramatically, just that we should be aware of differences.
It seems to me that as we think about service points and physical space that we might want to keep some of these ideas in mind.