In the past, dogs and libraries haven’t mixed all that much. Whenever a patron with a dog was spotted on one of the floors of O’Neill Library, a conversation would quickly ensue among staff about what the dog was doing there, why the owner thought it was OK to bring a dog into the library, and whether we needed a “No Dogs Allowed” sign on the door.
Recently, all of that began changing. Word got around that other universities had puppy rooms or petting zoos during stressful times in the academic year. Since we like to be innovative in all ways (except for the current library sleeping pod trend-we draw the line there!) we looked into the possibility of having dogs visit our libraries.
Our program began as a small joint effort three years ago between the Social Work Library and O’Neill Library and has grown tremendously since then.
This past semester during study days and finals we had 11 dogs visit. Over 1100 people (mostly students but a few staff) came to de-stress with them. This was our most ambitious end-of-semester schedule so far and it was driven by student request.
Also, this past year we started a program called Dog Day Afternoons which featured well-attended monthly dog visits “just because”. Students are now asking for weekly dog visits and are also saying “We should just have a library dog.”
At our Brain Break event, held on the night of November 29th, the dogs had 250 visitors.
The libraries arrange for dog visits through Therapy Dogs International (TDI) which was founded in 1976. Dogs certified by TDI have met their rigorous standards of behavior and are insured. They are not, as some people have asked, campus employees’ pets.
The dog visits are beloved by our students for two main reasons. First, many of them have dogs at home and miss them a great deal. A common sentiment is that they miss their dogs more than their parents because dogs aren’t good Skypers or texters.
The second reason is that our TDI dogs are natural stress relievers. To be good therapy dogs they have to be naturally calm, friendly, and able to share empathy with humans. Joe, one of our visitors, loves lying on the floor while several individuals pet him, but he also just naturally gets up whenever a new person arrives and looks them in the eyes so they know they’re welcome. This kind of skill can’t be taught. Another of our dog visitors, Tex, can pick out the most stressed individuals in the crowd. He then goes over to them and “hugs” them with his front paws. Students love watching the dogs obey commands and do tricks but they most value just sitting on the floor and touching them.
This coming year just happens to be the Lunar Year of the Dog so naturally, we will be taking advantage of it and hosting many dog visits. We advertise our dog events via social media and on the library website. We will also have printed schedules of the Year of the Dog events at the circulation desk in February.
Please try to stop by and interact with one of the therapy dogs this coming semester. When you see the students’ faces, you will have the answer to the question, “Why is there a dog in the library?!”