What to Know About SJSU’s King Library
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library at San José State University (Photo: Muhamed Causevic, ’15 Graphic Design)
Look up from the corner of Fourth and San Fernando streets in downtown San José, and you’ll see the strong, angular exterior of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library extending eight floors to the sky. The library is both a literal and figurative cornerstone of San José State University — and the main branch of the 25 branches of the San José Public Library.
When the King Library opened in 2003, it was the first library in the United States to combine a major city and university library, which made every collection and service available to all. Nearly 20 years later, the library remains an example of what a joint-use library can be.
King’s new dean, Michael Meth, joined the team three months ago and is already off to a running start, making connections across campus and beyond. Through a little bit of what he calls luck and happenstance, Meth found his way to the library field during his master’s program in information studies at the University of Toronto.
He’ll also be the first to tell you that those who work in libraries have “the best jobs in the world.”
We sat down with the library’s new dean to learn more about what King offers our community and the general public, its partnership with the city, the open access movement and much more.
How is the King Library different from traditional libraries?
Michael Meth: King is a very unique library. There really are very few public-academic collaborations like we have. As far as I know, there is no other library that is in scale and size as large or as important as King is to San José State University, as well as to the city of San José.
We’ve got something to offer everyone, whether you’re an undergraduate or graduate, faculty or staff member. And we’re here to support your success and exploration with our services and spaces. You can access the library in person or online. The library was one of the first spaces to reopen on campus since the pandemic’s initial closures, while also never stopping our services during the pandemic.
You can interact with us virtually through the website, our social media (LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter), virtual chat or our after-hours chat bot. We also have massive collections in physical and electronic formats. You can come to King and read a current magazine or historical materials from 400, 500 or 600 years ago.
We offer support throughout the entire research life cycle to all in the SJSU community. You can borrow laptops. You can 3D print. You can learn about virtual reality and augmented reality, and you can record podcasts in our recording studio. All of that is available in the library.
I also love that we have spaces like AAACNA [the Africana, Asian American, Chicano, & Native American Studies Center] on the fifth floor, because in many ways, the center expands what one typically expects to find in a library. You see the artwork; you see the collections there, and a perspective shift happens when one realizes there is a whole canon of scholarship that is not usually represented in an academic library.
The same goes with our special collections. There’s some incredible stuff, whether you’re going to visit the unique collections of the Steinbeck or Beethoven centers, or stepping into the Special Collections and Archives reading room to interact with the unique collections we have. Or, head over to the California room managed by SJPL, which documents San José and California history. The fifth floor is a treasure trove of culture, history and unique artifacts.
One of the things that I love about libraries, too, is that after almost every conversation, people come away with this insight: “I didn’t know that libraries have that.”
King Library also has a joint partnership with the San José Public Library. What are some of the opportunities you see from this collaboration?
MM: There’s so much opportunity. This partnership really gives us another layer of combined resources, so as a scholar, you’re really getting the best of the public and academic library worlds.
With its 24 branches in addition to King, San José Public Library has an amazing distribution network throughout the city. We can combine services and learn from each other. The innovation that they have brought to the library — like SJPL Works, for example — are services that aren’t traditionally found at academic libraries. I’m only three months in, and although we’re in the very early stages of collaborating and exploring what is even possible, I can already see how much potential there is to serve the SJSU and San José populations better.
You’re going to be seeing a few different ideas coming from us in the next year or so. We’re intentionally designing programs that will allow. us to cross over between the public and the academic sides.
Furthermore, being in Silicon Valley adds to the potential. It’s a tremendous opportunity to bring in partners from around the city and county. We’re still in the early days of planning, but I think you’ll be seeing some cool and innovative projects from us.
What are some of the biggest challenges academic libraries face in general and in the future?
MM: There are many challenges academic libraries face. One challenge is representing the diversity of our communities. It’s something we’re always working on. We’re shifting away from outdated structures that have not encouraged, recognized and celebrated diversity in scholarship.
However, we need to do better as we move forward, whether that’s in our practices to collect more broadly the different voices, different narratives, different stories, and in different languages; or in the way we hire and present ourselves to the community; the ways we design and offer services; and also recognize different learning styles, neurodiversity, and the many ways people show up. We want to be there.
The changing nature of scholarship and technology and our environments is always a challenge. Scholarship has been evolving from the traditional print model to new forms and formats. As libraries, we have an obligation to collect and document the broad range of scholarship, make it available and facilitate access across a spectrum of changing technology.
For libraries, budgets are always a challenge. We need money to continue purchasing and facilitating access to the resources needed by our scholars to be successful in their scholarship, teaching and learning. Developing strategies to continue to expand access to resources is costly, and our budgets are usually under pressure to keep up. Space in the library is another significant challenge for us. Balancing the need for spaces to study, learn and reflect with the need to house and make our collections accessible is one of the key questions we contemplate regularly.
We’ve been hearing a lot of buzzing about a new digital humanities center at King. Can you help us understand what digital humanities are and this exciting project?
MM: In general, digital humanities (DH) is research in the humanities that’s leveraging digital tools, whether they are on the analytic side, data visualization or other research tools. In that way, even though it’s called digital humanities, DH is interdisciplinary on its own.
We received a wonderful grant from the NEH [National Endowment for the Humanities] for developing a digital humanities center. And this summer, we’re going to be hosting a digital humanities research institute.
Eventually the DH center will get built inside the library, and we are excited for the DH projects that will emerge. Scholars will be able to pursue digital and virtual research, and we’ll work on data visualizations and a variety of research projects that will span the disciplines.
Tell us about open access. What is it and why is it important for our students and faculty?
MM: There’s open access, open educational resources, and open data, which are all part of a bigger “open” movement. The open movement is very near and dear to my heart, and it addresses a lot of important issues related to accessibility and affordability.
Right now, the way that scholarship is shared shuts out a large part of the world from participating because access to the most recent scholarship and research is limited to those privileged enough to have the resources to acquire access, which is expensive. Open access tries to address this challenge by disseminating recent research without restrictive copyright attached, but instead uses the creative commons licensing system.
Open education resources (OER), as part of the open movement, allows us to provide access to education resources for our students and relieves them of the pressure of having to buy expensive textbooks and supplementary resources. OERs also allow for a much larger variety of media to be included; for example, an instructor can include audio, video and images, in addition to more traditional text-based learning objects.
Several folks in our library are working on these initiatives; we’re trying to provide education and create awareness on platforms and resources. We’re always very happy to help our scholars figure out solutions if they’re not already using open resources.
What else would you like the campus community specifically to know about the MLK library that they might not know? The general public?
We invite you to come and explore, and create your own path, journey and adventure in the King library. Hang out on different floors and find the environment that lets you do your best work, or speak with one of the members of our library team. Check out the views on the eighth floor or explore the prototyping lab on the lower level. Go to the fourth floor and find out about the services offered by our student computing team or explore the KLEVR lab.
Go to fifth floor and check out the Special Collections & Archives or learn from the newest AAACNA exhibit; find a quiet spot on the sixth or seventh floor to study. And, of course, check out our website and explore our digital presence. Lastly, follow our social media to stay updated on our events.
It’s all there for you to use, and we are happy to help you at any point along your exploration.