Comments on: The bookless library History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present Tue, 30 Sep 2014 18:16:59 +0000 hourly 1 By: What is a library without books? A true story in two acts. « Libraries with/out Walls Mon, 26 Apr 2010 08:16:38 +0000 [...] ability to annotate (see the Princeton study on e-readers in the college classroom), and even the issue of comfortability (feel of books, ability to flip through them, books-as-treasured-objects, books as scholarly output [...]

By: Excellence without Money!, part III: Knowledge without Books! : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present Fri, 20 Nov 2009 20:07:57 +0000 [...] been meaning to link back to something Janice Liedl wrote a few days ago in the comments to my previous post on the magical shrinking university libraries that seem to be afflicting many of us: When you [...]

By: Indyanna Tue, 17 Nov 2009 03:02:31 +0000 If someone is an academic administrator and they can’t “quantify” the value of their profs prowling the stacks in search of knowledge, maybe they should go look for a job somewhere where they need administrators. Which is definitely not around universities. Of course, to be fair, raise your hand if you’ve recently seen someone in your field with more than two books out roaming around the open stacks of a big uni research library. I haven’t at BFU, or hunched over laptops at the reading tables at any of the nearby major manuscript collections either, for that matter. It’s all the dissertators and early phase post-docs. I’ve often wondered whether the bigfeet have special reading rooms, or is it just that they have RAs? So maybe the beancounters are onto something after all?

Re Mark K’s “cynical observation”: check the piece in the Times today about CUNY’s big drive into science research. And not mere “curiosity-driven” science, they point out–with a gratuitous sneer at my favorite faculty of the imagination. Rather mission-driven. Like, we’re going to find a molecule that binds to damaged cartilage in the knee, to speed the return of running backs from the disabled list. Science like that there.

By: Mark K. Mon, 16 Nov 2009 18:48:39 +0000 “What is a library without books?”

The place where you can get help from the librarians. (Thanks everyone who raised the issue of library staff reductions.)

I don’t have much to add to what others have said, except for the cynical observation that “it will hurt faculty research” doesn’t seem likely to be persuasive to administrators in the increasingly adjunctified world of higher education.

By: Paul Mon, 16 Nov 2009 17:12:04 +0000 This reminds me of a lot of the discussions and debates that I participated in a few years ago when I was working on an LIS (Library & Information Science) degree. That was 3-4 years ago, but these were already serious issues then. Further developments in technology use and declining funds in a bad economy have just made them more and more urgent.

The most basic problem seems to be that actually being able to browse through the stacks of books is definitely an important part of research for many scholars, but because this benefit is so difficult to quantify, it is essentially invisible to administrators. It’s very difficult to justify expenditure for benefits that can’t be measured or quantified, especially in a time of tight budgets.

It’s also a good point that researchers in different fields gather information differently, and how browsing and serendipitous discovery may be more important to historians than to researchers in most other fields.

By: polisciprof Mon, 16 Nov 2009 12:48:27 +0000 My campus is facing a similar downsizing issue (to make space for an office of on-line instruction among other things). The issue was not moving books off campus but deaccessioning 60,000+ volumes.

In two weeks, we collected over 122 signatures on a petition…out of a faculty of just over 160.

Of course, the humanities faculty signed on en masse, but faculty from the sciences and professional programs were vocal advocates of “browsing the stacks” as well.

Electronic books open many doors but I worry that with future budget cuts, we may not hold the subscription rights to books we once had in our own stacks. We are already facing this problem with journal access. At a mid-level state university like mine, only a few students will do the legwork to even identify sources, let alone request them on ILL. If we don’t have the resource the students won’t find it. Viva browsing!

By: Janice Sun, 15 Nov 2009 23:05:02 +0000 I have a semi-insider’s perspective on librarianship since my husband’s worked in academic libraries for about five years. We’ve watched staffing levels get cut to the bone (his hours are now part-time at a local college instead of full-time at the U) and that has an impact.

Who’s there to scan those chapters you want from the books on ILL or the article from the journal your U doesn’t have? I’m seeing a situation where supporting those requirements as well as serving our own students is harder and harder to manage. And with our library acquisition budget cut to 1/3 its former levels, who thinks it will be restored anytime soon?

When you nickel and dime your library, you nickel and dime humanities research which already is thought to be cost-free because we don’t require labs or investigators or the like. But if no one has the books, and no one keeps journals available (whether through leaving the private-sector model or what-have-you), if no one keeps the material available, if no one teaches the students how to use the materials we have, how can we be surprised that libraries turn into Starbucks and study rooms?

By: Mamie Sun, 15 Nov 2009 22:46:22 +0000 The idea that one can simply order a book from off-site storage presumes that one can identify the book one needs using a catalog or other finding aid. Trouble is, finding aids reflect the assumptions of the era in which they are created and the abilities of the person creating them. Anyone working in women’s history knows that indexes created before about 1975 never accurately reflect content related to women. (More recent indexes are only somewhat more reliable.)

Years ago, I met a historian who worked on compiling “Sources in Women’s History,” the catalog of archival collections in the U.S. published in the late 1970s (we used to call it just “Hinding,” after the main editor). The editors had sent out a questionnaire to hundreds of archivists. Many, many came back claiming that this or that archives held NO collections relating to women. The historian telling me this story related how she literally drove around the country, visiting these archives and uncovering family paper collections with scores of letters by women, and (her favorite example) college archives at coeducational institutions with hundreds of files on women’s organizations. How could colleges with women students imagine their archives did not document women?, wondered my colleague.

I don’t want finding aids standing between me and the books. To perform my research effectively, I need to go into the stacks and rifle through the books myself. I need to flip through shelves of books at a time to work efficiently. I refuse to relinquish my chance to do this so that the library can replace books with computer terminals where students check out facebook (or watch pr0n, apparently).

Yes, special collections rooms do not open their stacks, but this is by admission a special situation, intended to protect the rare and fragile.

The only way off-site storage could serve historians is if we each got a spacious private office in the library with lots of shelf space, and the books were delivered to us by the hundreds. But that wouldn’t save much space, now would it?

By: Indyanna Sun, 15 Nov 2009 21:42:27 +0000 It’s always implied that fiscal/budgetary and physical space constraints are fixed and unavoidable, but they’re only fixed for “stakeholders” that allow them to be fixed. Once Penn State joined the Big Ten there was no way on earth why Syracuse needed a bubble-dome stadium that you could see with the naked eye from Mars; but they built one anyway. Ohio State already had a horseshoe stadium that could fit the population of my nearby college town in five times over, but they tore up the campus for three years to “close the ‘Shoe” and add more capacity for seven dates a year. While they were at it, they also closed their overstuffed but innovative library, presumably to add more coffeehouse and beanbag amenities, while sending their scholars across the river to temporary facilities to seek out knowledge. Why not send the athletic programs to “remote storage” by paying for all interested stakeholders to have top of the line accounts in various fantasy leagues and “all you can watch ESPN” subscriptions? This could probably be done at a real discount to the amortized bond costs of athletic facility bricks and mortar, and the savings could be used to build higher on the library front.

The same arguments that are now used about why we “just can’t” expand today’s libraries could have been used a generation ago to justify standing pat with the cute but relicky little “old libraries” on campuses that have now often been repurposed to other functions. The critical importance of physical access to knowledge for at least some kinds of humanistic inquiry can’t just be dismissed. That is, there are surely practices in most disciplines that will not be much harmed by going all remote. But other methodologies just as surely will be, and it’s hard to see why the special interest discipline of library science, in alliance with the comprtollers, should be allowed to be the ajudicator here.

By: Anonymous midwesterner Sun, 15 Nov 2009 21:15:20 +0000 The prospect of a bookless library is scary…but overblown. Faculty are right to question whose priorities are being served by opening a Starbucks where their research materials used to be, but the truth is that most libraries are building off-site storage because there are simply too many books to fit in the buildings constructed 50 or more years ago. It’s stupid when someone proposes off-site storage that is 500 miles away, but when it’s in some less-central-to-the-campus spot from which books can be delivered to you in a day (at my U., into my mailbox no less!) it seems unfair to claim you are really being inconvenienced.

Some point out that shelf browsing is a way to rediscover the value of forgotten materials, but when (as at my library) books were shelved in several different classification schemes, and often lost *within* the building, it wasn’t really all that productive.

I served as chair of my university’s library watchdog committee, and I heard a lot of faculty hysteria over the plan to move books to offsite storage. You know what the real threat to historians’ book culture is? Not off-site storage, but expensive journals, controlled by for-profit corporations and absolutely vital to our scientific and medical colleagues’ research. Their costs are insidiously eating into library budgets, meaning that they can’t afford to buy the books you and I write (and want to read) anymore. It’s hard to convince those colleagues, and even our social-scientists, that there is something important to our discipline that mandates communicating in a format of 200 pages or so.