Quote for Today

“Librarians are the worst enemies of books there are.”

He smiles sardonically when he says this, an amiable old fart that the library keeps around to shelve books. With his fire-hose arms and gut like a sack of wheat, by law, his name must be Gus or Gord or Hank. It’s questionable that he grew up in a home with a television set or was born after North and South Korea declared war. And when he mutters this quip, he has a mordant half-smile that sets his white mustache diagonally on his face. He was responding to my own gibe- he lit up like a kerosene lamp when I noted that the library “seems none too fond of books”, thinking maybe he’d found a kindred spirit. In reality, I’m just tickled by amiable old farts who have long passed the time of keeping their opinions to themselves in fear of ‘professional repercussions’ and who will instead, at the slightest encouragement, let loose with a flood of invective, dirty jokes, phlegm and wisdom.

Clearly, there’s a tacit class division working at our local university library*, between the doctors of library science who have remade the first three floors, of six, in the image of a retirement home visiting area, and these grumbling proletarian repositories of the past who have no say in the running of the library, but who, if you ask them, still know what a library was. Hank compares the current incarnation to an “arcade” when I ask him what happened to the quiet reading areas and the shelves of books; he says the library science bourgeoisie have callously replaced “some really beautiful reading rooms” with “an arcade”. As of this semester, there are no books whatsoever on the first three floors and at least half of those on the upper three floors have been put in “storage”. Yesterday, I tried to read Henry Miller’s The Air-Conditioned Nightmare and found the only copy in the library was a two volume edition: Volume 1 is on the shelf and Volume 2 is in the “remote storage facility”, an air-conditioned nightmare of its own, no doubt- yet another filing cabinet of the soul. Gus probably has no use for Miller- a different flood of invective, dirty jokes and phlegm altogether- but I’m guessing he has an opinion on the bisection of the text as well as putting the majority of the librarium’s “holdings” in a concrete warehouse hundreds of kilometers away like they were radioactive fuel rods. The librarium wants to remain “cutting edge” as it steps unthinkingly into the new millennium- they envision the “physical location” as a “hub” linking up the patrons with each other and electronic media in a “web” of “connectivity”. The architectural ideal is the timeless, placeless plasticity of a mall. Book readers are asked to move quietly to the catacombs.

Maybe you reach old fartdom when you finally lose all patience for hype and bullshit. But, I was never exactly overjoyed listening to the happily chirping parvenus forever fighting to remain current and up-to-date, usually because they need fashions to do their thinking for them. I was never up-to-date, not even when I was young and full of unwitting energy, a bubbling beaker of sperm and confused thoughts; I always felt like I was sliding sideways from the main current of life in the society. I never felt anything warm or charitable for these nondescript utilitarian nowhere-places that are designed to slide as many anonymous people as possible through them like junk food slipping noiselessly through antiseptic guts. The current architectural ideal is a place that you can feel nothing about, not a flicker of affect that might interfere with your lifelong hallucination of yourself. Books- actual physical texts- go against all of this because they bear witness to the fact that there was a time other than now, people other than us- and history is precisely what we’re trying to escape. The specificity repulses us. I was always on the side of the jagged and unrepeatable and horribly specific.

But lately I feel like I have no idea where I am anymore, as if this is now the alien planet. How to even begin understanding a library that rids itself of books? How can places themselves seem covetous? Why does every new building look like a mall? Why does everything the culture produces now seem like an advertisement for something else? A true story: my wife freelances as a resident psychotherapist at various “health centres” in our area; the management of one such location is currently bewildered and annoyed by her ethical refusal to work advertisements for their spa packages into the advice she gives to clients during their sessions. How do these organizations survive when everything they say or do is dishonest? How much lying can a culture endure? And, please, remind me again about the “ethical neutrality” of capitalism.

Now, hear me out! When you feel nothing warm or charitable about the adulteration of your culture, this makes you a “conservative” or even a “reactionary”, at least in America (where every thought or feeling makes you either a liberal or a conservative). “Progressives” supposedly celebrate progress and see the cultural past in terms of racism, sexism, and superstition. Our first mistake is to identify technological progress with cultural progress, as if they were coterminous. Our second mistake is to consider culture not in terms of history or continuity, but only in terms of demography. Our third mistake is to call unthinking acceptance of the status quo (vis-à-vis the past) “liberalism”.

However (and this is the point of at least 50% of what I write here), there is no coherent reason that progressives should accept the adulteration and debasement of their culture in the name of progress. If environmental degradation and the loss of social mobility distress people on the left, then the growing cultural inequality– elevating culture for the few and mean-spirited pabulum for everyone else- should enrage liberals just as much as it does conservatives, and for the love of God, I hope cultural decline still upsets conservatives. And if you need some examples of political liberals who are cultural conservatives, look to the university; I have yet to meet an academic in the humanities who is not a cultural conservative, nor one who would admit it openly.

Or just look to the old-timers in your place of employment. I mean, Gus might be a churlish old tub of grievances, but at least he’s not a full-time compulsive liar like every other functionary of the mall. He’s right- they’re the enemies of books, and all other attempts at clear and enduring thought. But they’re in the majority.

Endnote: * Why not name the guilty parties? I’m not enrolled there, but lately have been making use of the library at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. The library has been radically overhauled in the last year. If the staff would like to hear my opinions on these overhauls, I can be reached courtesy of this site.

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58 thoughts on “Quote for Today

  1. Oh man, this post was a treat.

    I’ve never understood why managing a library requires an advanced degree, by the way. It sounds like something the Technocracy cooked up to keep our grubby mits off the books.


  2. Rufus, my intuition is that things are not so neatly divided (at least in the library world; IHNC about health centers) as all that. Have you read the the Darien Statements on the Library and Librarians? Very culturally conservative, written by very cutting-edge librarians… (http://www.blyberg.net/2009/04/03/the-darien-statements-on-the-library-and-librarians/)

    Granted that might not do a lot for your immediate frustration, but maybe trying to see those principles at work in the library you are grumping about, in less obvious-to-you ways, might? I have sometimes found that reading my environment charitably does a lot to make me feel less like yelling “GET OFFA MY LAWN.”


  3. (Full disclosure, I know people who work at McMaster, though I don’t know what they will think of this post. Perhaps they will respond!) I think what I’m trying to say is the same thing I’ve said to some twopointopians of my acquaintance…. your enemies are not who you think they are.


    • Okay, I know that. I guess about 20-30% of my friends are librarians and they all share my convictions on these matters. I like to assume that people who really know the field do as well, and here’s the big point I should have made- if something truly hideous is happening anywhere on campus, it most likely originated with an official “mandate” issued by the parent institution’s administration. History is the same way- we’re watered down because the admins see it as good business.

      So, note to librarians- I’m not mad at you. In fact, if you want to stand up and fight the gutting of your libraries, I will be there on the barricades with you!

      As for McMaster, I am planing to visit their offices and talk about this with them. At the least, I’d like to remind them that there are plenty of us book readers left and their libraries are increasingly unpleasant places to read books in peace.


      • Well, but I mean, look, you know I love to read and I love peaceful corners. But I’m one of the people you’re upset about. Our college library has almost no books on the middle two floors and it is rarely peaceful unless you curl up in particular spots (though we do make sure to have those). It is also filled to the brim (depending on the rhythm of classes) with loud, enthusiastic computer users *who also* resort to the stacks and read/browse our physical collections heavily. The *same* students. Who somehow *do* manage to find quiet solitude-filled corners when they want them, because they know the rhythms of their environment. The librarians rebuilding the library in ways that irritate you are inculcating *those* kids – you know, the ones who are actual members of the college – into loving libraries. I’ve gotten grumpy community users at my library saying pretty much what you say above, and I pretty much say, “Are you a member of this college? Do you expect me to worry about giving you a haven instead of giving my students a haven and thereby helping them turn into grumpy old people like you? Then you can leave.” It’s not either/or, it’s both/and. If you think it’s either/or, you’re not looking hard enough. And I’m not offended, in the least, just … rueful.


        • Maybe you are? Maybe you’re faculty or a student at McMaster? In that case, you definitely need to be part of the conversation. If not, maybe you should think about what you can find out about what they’re doing and why instead of branding them liars who need to be schooled.


        • PS This does maybe sound elitist. I was a community user of this library for seven years before I worked here, and I worked hard at fitting in to the surrounding culture instead of wanting them to bend their mission to suit me. If you are really upset about libraries’ missions, I would look to serving on your local public library board? Seriously, not just as a blowoff answer.


        • Look, I understand that it’s not an either/or thing and that libraries will serve many functions in the future. However, I don’t understand why so many of them seem to place a much greater emphasis on the needs of non-readers who might be inculcated into a love of books than they do on those of us who already read. The library in question has either removed the ‘Silent Reading Rooms’ they had just last year, or they’ve hidden them and removed them from the directory. The result, however, is every floor is filled with those people who come there to talk loudly, surf the net, eat junk food, and hang out. They have gotten the message that they belong there, and as students, your point is that they do. I agree.

          But, people like me belong there too. And in the process, people like myself, those angry old people (I’m 35) who come to that library to read books, have gotten the message that we don’t belong there. It’s not even a matter of being validated- I simply can’t read in that library and I used to really like reading there. It’s tiring to tell people to be quiet all the time. They’re probably right in being noisy anyway. And certainly, if you measure the success or failure of a library by the number of patrons, a library that serves only as a haven for people who like to quietly read dead-tree texts will be a very lonely place.

          I still think however that, on some level, a library that alienates the people who come there to read books is not a success.


          • I think that you are either reading past me or seeming to, and probably likewise in my case. I do have some information about your specific case that I would like to share with you, from sources close to this reporter, if it would help with the specific case (of course not terribly useful with your larger frustration or the universal aspects of the argument). But I don’t have your email and I was asked to I email it to you if possible – can you email me? marseillaise at good ole gmail …


        • Marianne sez:

          > It is also filled to the brim (depending on the rhythm of classes) with
          > loud, enthusiastic computer users *who also* resort to the stacks and
          > read/browse our physical collections heavily. The *same* students.

          Rufus sez:

          > However, I don’t understand why so many of them seem to place
          > a much greater emphasis on the needs of non-readers who might
          > be inculcated into a love of books than they do on those of us
          > who already read.

          Since you two have gone off-thread, this may be amicably answered elsewhere, but to toss in $0.02…

          I work not in a library, but in an area where user expectation does drive a lot of what gets done. There are times when the user expectation is fantastical. It may be reinforced, it may even be a cultural norm in a particular generation, but it’s still fantastical.

          For example, there’s people who insist that they’re more productive when they multitask. Study after study shows that this isn’t the case for most people, even for a large percentage of the ones who claim it to be true. There’s a difference between effectively using downtime and slack time to pursue many goals simultaneously on one layer of abstraction, but this isn’t what most people think of as “multitasking”.

          Allowing people to “multitask” may be a cultural norm in many places, but it’s not necessarily a good idea from a pedagogical standpoint.

          So in addition to the question of, “should we market for the non-reader” more than the “current-reader”, there’s the question of, “if we market for the non-reader, are we actually improving their ability to read?”

          Marianne sez:

          > Who somehow *do* manage to find quiet solitude-filled corners
          > when they want them, because they know the rhythms of their
          > environment.

          Do they? Or do they think they do? I’m not claiming to have an answer, I’m genuinely curious.


          • They do, in my case. Part of my job is to be aware of who is in the library doing what in the nebulous-but-concrete building-management walk-around-and-see sense of the word. There are literally many quiet solitude-filled corners with students reading in them, right now. (The whole library is also pretty quiet right now, because in the middle of the block, right before suppertime, is one of the times when the quiet students like to be here. Since we’re open 8am-2am most days, students tend to self-segregate by timeslice as much as anything else.)


            • You missed my nuance.

              When the not-quiet people are there, are they learning anything? Or are they aggregating there the way they might aggregate at any large open space where other people aggregate?

              > It is also filled to the brim (depending on the rhythm of
              > classes) with loud, enthusiastic computer users *who
              > also* resort to the stacks and read/browse our physical
              > collections heavily.

              These are the people I’m curious about. Are they actually learning how to do research effectively? Or are they simply think they are learning how to research effectively, but what they’re actually doing is hitting the computer and logging into facebook and then zooming over to the stacks and then hanging out and hitting on the pretty girls and then zooming back to facebook and then grabbing three things that are within an delta of maybe might be useful references and then back to the dorm room to drop these books off and it’s time to hit the kegger?

              They might be using the library just fine, without getting *pedagogical* use out of it. Again, not saying I know the answer, just asking questions.

              Because I see lots of people thinking they’re getting a learning experience out of something who aren’t getting that at all.


              • I’ve had a related question when teaching the survey courses. We’d assign little readings for the students- mostly college freshmen- and then the instructors all get mad because the students “don’t do the readings”. But, when you actually talk to them about why they can’t answer basic questions about the readings, you find that many of them actually did read the articles; they just can’t read something and get the meaning out of it. They’re literate, just not proficiently so. What I worry is that we often assume that people are not reading when they’re just not able to comprehend what they read, and are unaware of that; or that they assume that they’re reading at a higher level than they actually are. After you teach five or six hundred such students, you start wondering if there’s not a generational thing going on here.


                • I did miss your question, but the answer is pretty much the same:

                  >Or are they simply think they are learning how to research effectively, >but what they’re actually doing is hitting the computer and logging into >facebook and then zooming over to the stacks and then hanging out and >hitting on the pretty girls and then zooming back to facebook and then >grabbing three things that are within an delta of maybe might be useful >references and then back to the dorm room to drop these books off and >it’s time to hit the kegger?

                  A few of them are doing what you describe; most of them aren’t. The students I’ve seen zooming around being loud and social one day are, yes, the *very same* students I’ve seen working their asses off and writing solid papers and spending hours in the “scholarly zone” of their heads on some other day. Often the very same day! And the kids at the tables doing schoolwork are *focused*/chatting/*focused*/chatting. Not superficially “multitasking”, but task switching in a complicated but functional way. It’s a small school, about 2000 mostly residential undergraduates, and they are deeply engaged to a higher degree than I remember the average student at my pretty-much-pre-internet large research university being (and it had ridiculously high entrance standards, which ought to skew things the other way). I don’t grade their papers, but I know their professors, and I talk to them about what they’re working on. Occasionally I even read or skim their senior theses. Some of the most classically scholarly kids are ALSO goofy and loud and facebooky part of the time. Most of the decidely-not-19th-century students who choose to spend their time in *this* library, are indeed learning things. (Besides just how to meet people of the genders they are interested in, I mean.)

                  There are other spaces for them to aggregate if they don’t feel like learning things from our materials (books, maps, government documents, online resources that are easier to access in the library space where there is a librarian or four around to help, etc). It makes me supremely happy that most of this college’s students DO want to. That’s why we’re here.


                  • > It’s a small school, about 2000 mostly residential
                    > undergraduates, and they are deeply engaged to a
                    > higher degree than I remember the average student
                    > at my pretty-much-pre-internet large research
                    > university being

                    Hm; it might not generalize, then. It would be interesting to actually see a nice longitudinal study.


                  • You’ll get no argument with me if you’re saying that American educational standards do more damage than good. I don’t know if it’s the only problem- I read all the time now largely because my parents read to me all the time instead of giving me the digital nipple to shut me up. But, absolutely, education in the United States is failing to teach and then trying to fix their failures by doing more of the same.


  4. And, please, remind me again about the “ethical neutrality” of capitalism.

    Even I won’t do that. People follow incentives, not honesty. Set up the incentives correctly, and the results can be great. Set them up incorrectly, and you get a mess. And the whole process, for good or ill, is not one over which we have full control in any event.


  5. “And, please, remind me again about the “ethical neutrality” of capitalism.”

    I understand what you mean, but believe this direction is misguided, as you can have screwed up incentives under socialism, communism — I believe it has to do with values, and hopefully society is re-evaluating what’s important, and perhaps we can tame technology, and within a free market system realize that freedom allows different lifestyles, and that a lifestyle of slow meditation and creativity can be just as rewarding, and moreso for many, than achievement of riches or the next new gadget Very good writing..


    • Don’t get me wrong- when I say that capitalism is not ethically neutral, I’m not saying that communism is ethical. I have stronger concerns about the soul of man under communism by far. All I’m saying is that marking off a segment of life or a sphere of society and calling it “ethically neutral” is a pipe dream. Ethics that apply to say 80% of life aren’t ethics, and moral neutrality is, in itself, immoral. So, what you say about a culture having values and bringing them to bear on the market, as they do in all other areas of life, is much more healthy and realistic than hoping for ethical neutrality, or converselymuch more healthy than having the state make ethical decisions for the market. And I definitely don’t mean to say we should scrap the whole thing for communism.


      • Capitalism is just a system of economics. Ethics is an important subject, and it is possible to avoid the extremes of behavior driven by pure greed or status with no sense of right or wrong. In a free market, which is the only environment capitalism can be properly practiced, unethical behavior is usually punished. If we had a free market, the punishment of unethical behavior would at least begin the process of thinking about ethics — practicing ethical behavior to avoid punishment is not virtuous, but it starts the process of thinking about values. The evolution of capitalism, and the devolution into the Merchant-State, show a clear deterioration of values. We can only hope that people learn from history, and if we do succeed in establishing a free market, perhaps the lesson to be learned is that separation of State and economy is critical to avoiding the unethical nature of a fixed game of cronyism. With the financial crisis being as serious as it is for such a long time, perhaps society is ready for a deeper understanding of what’s important — that a good job and certain degree of prosperity is necessary for the creative process — creating good communities, creating full humanness, creating a more well-rounded life. I think capitalism is our best bet for this to happen, otherwise, it’s a constant battle for dwindling resources and a protected, secure position within the State, which leads to subjugation and a loss of creativity, spirit and desire.

        This is off the topic, but what the hell — I’ve been thinking a lot about creativity lately. Creativity in a free market might even find a solution to libraries which could meet diverse needs. With so much government intervention we can no longer see very well what can be — our imaginations are stunted, so we follow the lead of those making the rules. Sorry to interrupt, just rambling.


  6. I work with Marianne, and I almost don’t want to comment since she’s doing such a bang-up job. And yet.

    I’m one of those Masters-degree-holding librarians. And I’m probably more sympathetic to the library-specific parts of your argument than you might expect. But when you try and draw conclusions about how the changes in the library *must* have come from the upper administration and/or that everyone in the organization is a “a full-time compulsive liar,” I conclude that you are simply making stuff up to suit your meta-argument about capitalism.

    Did you share this post with your 20-30% of your friends who are part of the “library science bourgeoisie?” You say they share your convictions–which ones? And do they all see this exactly as you do? I bet if you listen to them, you will find a wide spectrum of thoughts and ideas, assuming they are used to you making up cute names for them and implying they are unwitting pawns of a great lying machine.


    • Well, my friends disagree with me about the inevitability of certain trends, but tend to agree more on the likely outcome of those trends. They tend not to be offended by my tone, but it’s easier to convey in person.

      As for my offensive tone, let me explain where I’m coming from. This is the third library in my area that has made radical changes to their layout and holdings that, as a result, made it considerably harder to read books within their walls. I used to go to the public library, but they removed a section of books and put in a play area for children that made the entire building resound with delighted screams. When I asked them to put in a quiet room for readers, they seemed offended by my suggestion. The other two were university libraries and they made different decisions, but both are considerably less conducive to quiet reading now. I will say that, of the two, Mac is considerably worse.

      Why did they change their libraries in ways that made the atmosphere inside more hostile to readers? I don’t know. My assumption was that decisions were made in line with the logic of consumer capitalism: that the success or failure of a public institution is based on the number of patrons that institution serves. So therefore getting in a lot of internet-users and kids who want to hang out proves the success of the library and us elderly quiet readers will have to adjust. Does that approach serve the traditional mission of a library? I don’t think it does, and I think that claiming it better serves that mission than merely maintaining a haven for book-readers is simply untrue. Your opinion may differ.

      But who, pray tell, should I blame for the radical overhaul of the local library if I don’t like it? Are you saying that it wasn’t librarians that changed the library? Or that I’m attributing them false motives in doing so? I certainly am aware that they don’t see the changes the same way I do- and fair enough. Nevertheless, while I regret offending them by my words, they’ve offended me by their actions. I no longer read in those libraries because they’re no longer designed for that use. Somehow, I think that my offending the librarians is less problematic than their offending quiet readers.


      • I can see why it sounds like I think you are being offensive, though I wouldn’t put it quite that strongly. And I agree that you have a right to dislike the overhaul of the local library (though I thought we were talking just about the university library before; you have a right to an opinion there, too, of course, but I feel a bit more qualified to talk about that).

        Rather than trying to answer all your questions, I’ll try and explain a bit more about where I’m coming from–as a stranger sticking his nose in your community, I probably should have started there. My apologies if I came on too strong or defensive/offensive earlier.

        As an academic librarian, it is my belief that libraries are in a difficult time of change. Hearing pleas for spaces that better suit students’ preferred ways of working, we are trying to find more space for collaboration and more space for computers, while not totally abandoning those who would like a quiet place for solo study and reading. When faced with those demands on one side and a book collection where a large percentage of the collection is never used and yet it continues to grow each year as new books are added, librarians feel forced to make difficult decisions.

        Now, I will in no way argue that librarians always make the best choice or go about making decisions in the best possible way. But I think at most institutions, they/we try to do it in a way that is not full of lies or in thrall to a mall-based idea of what public life should be like, but in a way that is sensitive to the many needs of the many communities on campus. Your university library may have done it badly and may have done it without proper input from the community, but it’s hard to know that without talking to people about it.

        I love books as texts and I love books as objects. I have taught a course on “the history and future of the book.” I’d like to see libraries respect reading and books while still seeking ways to grow and change. I’ll probably use these terms in ways you don’t care for, but ibraries have an very interesting tension between the conservative and the progressive, in that we aim to preserve the cultural products and evidence of the past while still always seeking ways to provide more information to more people in more ways.

        Anyway. Sorry for the length of the comment, and thanks for the opportunity to air it.


        • Okay, I understand that. And, indeed, universities as such are in a difficult time of change. As an instructor, I work in an institution rooted in the close study of texts but embedded in a larger culture in which reading is becoming increasingly vestigial. This is forcing us all to make decisions about what has to change and what is worth fighting for. I think my answer to this problem is to essentially accept that my own role might well be counter-cutlural, and even perhaps antagonistic to the larger culture.

          Therefore, if I was in charge of a library, I’d likely do a terrible job of it! My ideal library would quite likely wind up like a 19th century private library, have almost no patrons, no means for paying the librarians, and end in ruin. I do understand that I’m somewhat reactionary here and that librarians don’t have the luxury of looking at the subject like I do, because for me there’s nothing at stake. And, to be honest, I’m somewhat undemocratic too- it’s entirely likely that they have gotten much input from the community and that my underlying assumption is that my input, as a book reader, should be worth more than that of patrons who don’t read books. I do see where that’s not a great working model in a culture with less book readers than ever.

          So I do accept that change will come to libraries. I just want to speak out loudly for those aspects of a traditional library that I love and want to see preserved, and in which I find myself increasingly in the minority. I do realize that there are a lot of people who don’t like to read books; it’s just that, well, they’re wrong in my opinion.


          • This take is similar to mine. I see Libraries as similar to Church Liturgy.

            If you’re going to start issuing some serious changes, I get all jumpy about it. If the changes are given with the intention of getting new members to show up, I need some hard evidence that new members will, in fact, show up.

            Maybe you’ll get a New Life kinda experience. Sure. More likely it strikes me that you’ll end up with a Buddy Christ that alienates old friends, doesn’t attract new friends, and you’ll end up with all sorts of empty space in your new friendly, modern, hip spaces.

            School Libraries are a horse of a different color, of course. They are catering to a clientele that shows up with all kinds of money, and Federal Grants, and loans, and scholarships, and money. You want to be competitive there. You pretty much have to be.

            But when it comes to the brick and mortar libraries?

            I don’t think that turning them into cybercafes that specialize in homeless folks will benefit anybody.

            It’ll just alienate old friends without attracting new ones.


            • > It’ll just alienate old friends without attracting new ones.

              I think that’s certainly something to worry about.

              OTOH, I believe similar things were said about buying fiction for public libraries (as opposed to “quality books”), open stacks, children’s books in libraries, audio and video recordings in libraries, video game collections in libraries and so on. Hence the push and pull.

              [Also I just told Marianne that I wasn’t going to reply. So I am a liar, as charged. ;) ]


              • Well, I’m not a fan of video game collections in libraries (exception: perhaps Civ games would be okay, perhaps Sim games would be okay… not the Sims crap though) but each of those other things were about opening up the library to more people by providing *MORE* information. Indeed, providing sources of information that they could not get elsewhere. (Indeed, the only reason I have read Stephen King is because I was able to sneak it in piles of books I was checking out from the library.) I guess that giving kids an excuse to beg to go to the library is good, though. Get them in the habit.

                Will turning the library into a cybercafe do the same, however?

                Don’t get me wrong. There are circumstances under which screwing with the liturgy *WILL* get more asses in the seats.

                I don’t see this as analogous to providing more and different kinds of books than libraries past. This isn’t giving special books for the blind, or the handicapable, or the young, or the old, or members of a particular group. Libraries were once repositories of knowledge rather than gatekeepers.

                Turning a library from a destination into yet another gateway to the internet is a fundamental change to the idea of libraries in a way that offering Doctor Dolittle books on cd is not.


                • Jay, I guess that’s where we just won’t agree. The idea that libraries making room for internet use at the expense of books is a “fundamental change” seems no different than the late 19th century concern about fiction in libraries. Both look back to an golden age of serious libraries that I question ever existed, and both argue against providing real people with what they really want in the name of a higher ideal for people who perhaps are more interested in their ideals than they are in libraries.


  7. I guess the short version of what I was saying is “Maybe McMaster does suck (or maybe not), but plenty of libraries doing similar things are doing them for good reasons that have to do with the same goals you think they’re throwing away.” The people turning libraries into mixed-use spaces are not always, or even usually, the people who want culture to belong only to a technocratic elite. That’s all. I’ll stop running my mouth. At least for now.


  8. I am a very recent MLIS grad, and a Systems Librarian at a college in the Middle East. I am the guy who’s doing the technology renovations, and turning the place into a cyber cafe.

    What is missing from this conversation is the real, solid and proven research that ‘Learning Commons’ really improve student success. Looking at the floor plans for McMaster, it looks like that’s what has been done with the first three floors, and there’s an explicit ‘Learning Commons’ on the second floor. If you want to challenge the role of Learning Commons in libraries, that’s a whole ‘nother discussion.

    My ideal library would include what I love about the quiet and the timeless in libraries with what I love about technology in libraries.

    Oh, and Will, while there is a viable debate within the library world about the quality of the advanced degree programs for librarians, do check out the specifications for the Library of Congress Subject Headings and write us a better way to organize information.


    • > What is missing from this conversation is the real,
      > solid and proven research that ‘Learning Commons’
      > really improve student success.

      That’s actually what I was alluding to in my above posts. Does this new environment actually work?

      I’m taking it for granted that college-age kids prefer a more open and relaxed atmosphere as a default atmosphere for just about *any* activity. They’re college-aged kids, after all. But just because they prefer it that way doesn’t mean that they’re actually getting what they ought to be getting out of it.

      I’m unconvinced that the change in library environment has this effect (although, to be fair, it’s certainly possible that it *could*).


    • I’m not intending to attack the Learning Commons, although I would ask how we define “student success” in these studies. What I meant to do was defend, in fact, were the quiet reading areas that are getting pushed out in the restructuring. You can’t tell from the online plans, but I usually read on the sixth floor, which still has stacks and is still fairly quiet, although considerably smaller in space than the other floors. What you really can’t tell from those plans is that, by about noon, the room is filled with students looking for quiet reading space- most of them end up sitting and working on the floor in any corner they can find, and often sitting in the rows between the stacks. I have no objections to them doing that- I’m there looking for the same thing. My point is just that the Learning Commons do not suit all students and shouldn’t come to dominate the entire library. Also, when your library starts to look like a bus terminal during the holidays, you might want to reconsider your plans.

      To be fair, there’s a bigger problem at Mac that the library cannot address, which is that there are simply too many students enrolled for that university. Overcrowding is a problem in all of their buildings. They either need to let in less students, which isn’t a great idea at all, or build more spaces, which is probably not possible financially. A lot of universities are facing the same problem. So the Mac library is also straining under a structural problem not of their making.


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