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Welcoming Books (And Borrowers) Back to the Library

I have to chuckle when visitors walk into our library and ask, “Where are the books? Isn’t this a library?”

Books at Eccles Health Sciences Library
New "browsing collection" at Spencer S. Eccles Health Sciences Library includes
fiction and non-fiction books for browsing or check-out. 

Yes, the Spencer S. Eccles Health Sciences Library (EHSL) is a wonderful library. Since 2014, our library, like many other academic health sciences libraries, went from reliance on printed materials to using digital publications as the main source of evidence-based information.

However, I am so pleased to announce that books are returning to EHSL, and we welcome visitors to come in and browse through them. Thanks to the generosity of donors, our new “browsing collection” will offer a variety of fiction and nonfiction books for browsing or check-out. We’ll have everything from classic novels and historical fiction to autobiographies, memoirs, cookbooks, and self-help books. We are also looking at expanding the collection to include podcasts, audio books, zines, movies, music, comics, and more.

What Happened When We Lost the Books

Soon after the books disappeared, students who came to the library to study began complaining about the noise level in the building. Our two-story open atrium, completely paneled in wood, reverberated with footsteps on the stairs and chatter from small group discussions. Who would have thought that the absence of books would turn the library into an echo chamber?

Then along came COVID-19, which of course greatly reduced the number of people actually coming to the library. The same could likely be said for medical libraries around the world. Before the pandemic, we were seeing more than 300,000 visitors each year, but with COVID we saw just shy of 40,000.

Change Requires Change

As a result of the feedback about the noise in the library, our staff brainstormed ideas to reduce the noise level to address the comments of people using our building.

One staff member suggested creating a “browsing collection” on the Main Level between the front desk and the main study area. As we talked further, we realized this could actually solve a number of problems. Not only would it serve as a sound barrier to help mitigate noise, beautiful cherrywood shelves filled with books would add beauty and artistry back to the library and allow us to say we really do have books here!

Since I’ve been working in libraries, I’ve learned how important the surrounding aesthetics are, including the architecture, building materials, colors and light, and the placement of furniture. All of these things lend to the “feeling” people have when they walk in. We want to make the library a place of study, reflection, research, and learning while also providing a welcoming and comfortable atmosphere.

A Place of Learning

Like many libraries—and other places of learning—the EHSL’s design and interior décor help to tell you where you are and what to expect as soon as you walk in. We encourage people to come to the library to get some work done, use a walking treadmill desk to focus on their health and wellness, or take a break and browse through our new collection.

Eccles Health Sciences Library

The idea behind the new “browsing collection” is to add to comfort and convenience for all of our patrons, whether that’s a student who needs a study break, someone looking for a specific book, or just someone wanting to relax and browse.

Of course, when people think of libraries, they think of education and learning. At EHSL, we see students and faculty from throughout the health sciences community, including the colleges and schools of health, medicine, pharmacy, nursing, and dentistry.

These individuals come to our library to study and conduct research; ask for help finding an article online or ordering it; use our computers; print out documents or use the 3-D printer; meet their study group; or check out equipment such as laptops, mobile hot spots, and VR equipment. Library staff and faculty are there to answer questions and help patrons find what they are looking for.

Community members also enjoy spending time in our library or participating in activities like the Community Reads Book Club, weekly yoga sessions, art exhibits, and lectures. While some prefer to join in person, many participate virtually. Isn’t this, after all, what libraries are for?

Join Us as the Library!

When you see the books in our space, it tells you that you’re entering a library. The books surround you with beauty, offer a moment of relaxation, and help reduce noise. That’s why we decided to bring them back. People have even come in with personal book collections, and we are planning to reserve a section in the browsing collection for personal donations, especially as they relate to the health sciences.

We hope you will stop in and enjoy the many pleasures of the Eccles Health Sciences Library—or your own library, wherever you may be. We especially hope you’ll explore our new browsing collection and all that it adds to the library experience!


Catherine Soehner, MLS, BSN

Catherine Soehner is the director of the Spencer S. Eccles Health Sciences Library and associate dean for research at the Marriott Library. During her time at the Marriott Library, Soehner has led the delivery of a wide range of library services, including research and information services, library instruction and training for users, and support for faculty, graduate students, and other advanced users in digital scholarship efforts. Previously, Soehner served in academic libraries at the University of Michigan and the University of California, Santa Cruz, as well as the National Library of Medicine.

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