Community Crossroads

MIT Libraries’ community engagement program fosters connection and supports wellbeing 

Video still of a woman in a face mask playing violin with a man in the background playing pianoEngaging with communities is in libraries’ DNA. With spaces and programs that are open to anyone – students, faculty, staff, and beyond – the MIT Libraries offer ways to explore, connect, and recharge. Community Engagement has existed as a formal program of the Libraries since 2015, supporting our users’ needs outside of course-related work and research and forging connections across MIT. In 2016, it launched the Institute-wide reading and discussion program MIT Reads. Twelve titles, 38 campus partners, and 1,145 free books later, the Libraries continue to build relationships across the Institute.

“We want to explore the intersections of the Libraries’ and the MIT community’s interests and needs – intellectual curiosity, academic life, civic engagement, information citizenship, personal connectedness, lifelong learning, and wellness,” says Nina Davis-Millis, director of the Community Engagement program. “Our goal is to provide a platform, both physical and virtual, where the community comes together around ideas.”

The program has four components: 

    • Events that highlight scholarship, research, artistic creation, or current community concerns;
    • Social spaces within the Libraries’ physical footprint;
    • Collaborations with Institute community partners, from student groups to employee resource groups to academic departments, as well as organizations beyond MIT; and
    • Resources, whether programs, spaces, or collections, that promote wellness, contribute to MIT’s rich co-curricular learning environment, and foster an inclusive community.

“I love [MIT Reads] discussion groups because they enrich the story for me, expose me to others’ perspectives on the books, and help me participate in the larger MIT community,” -MIT staff member

New Hayden, new opportunities
The reopening of the renovated Hayden Library and Building 14 Courtyard has opened new possibilities for collaboration and drawn the attention of potential partners. Curated collections displays about travel became a natural place to promote MISTI, MIT’s hub for global experiences. The new mindfulness space, the Oasis, became the backdrop for signage from DoingWell, an initiative to prioritize student wellbeing. The Building 14 Courtyard was the scene of the grad student-conceived MIT Mysterious Book Exchange, where attendees browsed a selection of free books, wrapped in brown paper and identified only by recommendations from fellow community members. Every one of the 650 books was claimed in the first three hours.

In only a few months, the Nexus – Hayden’s flexible space that goes from reading room to event venue with the switch of a retractable wall – hosted everything from a music performance by a graduate student trio to a digital humanities speaker series to MIT Mystery Hunt activities. It is the new home of the authors@mit speaker series, presented in partnership with the MIT Press. And, in one of the most anticipated events of Hayden’s first year, the Nexus will also host writer, sociologist, and MacArthur Fellow Tressie McMillan Cottom for a speaker event that will also be live streamed.  

“This is exactly the kind of event we envisioned when we talked about community outreach in the new Hayden,” says MIT Libraries Director Chris Bourg. “I hope Dr. Cottom will be the first of many marquee speakers that highlight the Libraries as a crossroads of intellectual curiosity.”