Cultural Institutions in Flux


Rufus F.

Rufus is an American curmudgeon in Canada. He has a PhD in History, sings in a garage rock band, and does many things. He is the author of the forthcoming book "The Paris Bureau" from Dio Press (early 2021).

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16 Responses

  1. Avatar Jaybird says:

    When schools stopped being “the place where you get an education” and started being “a box you need to check off before you can get a real job”, they lost their way.

    The library is no longer “a building that holds the accumulated wisdom of civilization” but a box an institution needs to check off before it’s considered a real college.

    When Maribou worked in the used bookstore, I used to make jokes from time to time about the people who would come in needing a red book about this thick and that tall and a yellow book a little shorter and a lot fatter… now educations are like that. Employees. Institutions.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Jaybird says:

      Books do furnish a room. I’ve got to stop riding this particular hobby horse, but I will also note that the university in question also seems to have reduced the books in its bookstore to a few shelves and filled the rest of the space with sweatshirts and other logo merch.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Rufus F. says:

        The whole book v. e-book thing feels like another silly example of how everything in the United States (or maybe North America) needs to become a needless culture and identity war. The same with techutopian pundits who like to argue for the End of Retail and having all shopping being on-line v. liberals who like supporting local, independent shops.

        There is and should be enough room in the world for all these things. People who have a preference for physical books are not a threat to those who prefer e-readers, yet in becomes a cultural war fight with arguments about stuff like books being antiquated and bad for the environment. The tech utopians are so wedded to the idea of Internet being the best thing ever that they can’t leave room that it is okay to prefer local independent shops.Report

  2. Avatar Chris says:

    Nice post. I saw the same thing when I was in grad school when they stopped getting paper copies of new issues of academic journals, which took up much of the library, including a whole section on the first floor for recent issues (1-3 years worth, depending on the journals). All of that space is now computers, which can, of course, be used to access those journals with a university account. Which gets to what my beef was with the change: prior to turning that space into an internet cafe, anyone could access those journals between the hours of 8 am and 10 pm, when library access was not restricted to students, faculty, and staff. After they converted it, only students, faculty, and staff could access the latest academic journals. I always thought part of the mission of a public university’s library was to serve the community, and the state, but the university apparently thought its mission was to provide more in-library computer space. Oh, and there’s now a coffee shop, because selling a $4 cup of coffee is more important than a high school student being able to use a university library to do some research.

    sound like a shallow take on Epictetus’s river that one can never step in twice

    Clear evidence that the lack of books is already taking its toll. That was Heraclitus. (I’m kidding about the book thing. Greeks are all the same anyway.)Report

  3. Avatar NewDealer says:

    I think it depends on the overall wealth of a city and many other factors.

    San Francisco is pretty wealthy city. I love the library system in San Francisco. They have a wide variety of books, music, DVDs, and also provide Internet access on library computers to many people who do not have it at home. The variety of materials ranges from the popular to the academic to the artsy/indie.

    An internet friend in a much poorer city (a dying Industrial one) once made a snide comment to me about how libraries should not lend out popular movies or music, they are for education. Maybe she was being sincere but I think it was largely out of jealousy because she came from an area where library budgets are constantly being slashed. San Francisco at least seemingly cares about libraries as a public good. We also have a dedicated “Friends of the Public Library” to help raise funds.

    Like many other major cities, a lot of Homeless use the public library system as a place to rest and clean up. A lot of librarians find themselves also acting as social workers. I read an article that I can’t find about this now.

    I sympathize with your post. Libraries should remain places for reading and physical books but they are also the best way of fighting the digital divide especially as more and more job-searching is being conducted on-line.Report

  4. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    Yes, I agree with this. I’m a bit of an antiquarian but I think that a lot of institutions hurt themselves by thinking that they must be modern and up to date to be relevant. A lot of value can be found in the old to and many things are fine the way they are. I like things that are true to themselves.Report

  5. Avatar Alan Scott says:

    I finished my undergrad in 2007. This year I went back to take some prerequisites for a teaching credential program.

    The amount of computer labs and lounge space in my school library appears to have quadrupled. But you know what else quadrupled? The amount of students in the library studying. So say what you want about institutions in flux, but I’m pretty sure mine at least knows what it’s doing.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Alan Scott says:

      Actually, mine does too. They have wifi in the building and some computers on the first floor and kept the books on the other three and the students are fine with using their laptops or reading books. I’ve heard no complaints.Report

  6. Avatar Stillwater says:

    From the outside, however, it looks like a state of confusion and very expensive decline.

    Dude, I feel ya. All I can say is – it sounds like you’re getting old!Report