Comments on: Excellence without Money!, part III: Knowledge without Books! http://www.historiann.com/2009/11/20/excellence-without-money-part-iii-knowledge-without-books/ History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present Fri, 26 Sep 2014 03:40:45 +0000 hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 By: Mark K. http://www.historiann.com/2009/11/20/excellence-without-money-part-iii-knowledge-without-books/comment-page-1/#comment-492133 Wed, 25 Nov 2009 00:12:28 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=8419#comment-492133 (Oops, forgot the closing tag on the link, sorry.)

]]>
By: Mark K. http://www.historiann.com/2009/11/20/excellence-without-money-part-iii-knowledge-without-books/comment-page-1/#comment-492132 Wed, 25 Nov 2009 00:11:35 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=8419#comment-492132 Historiann–thanks for the props for the profession! We are big fans of faculty as well, at least, those of us with any sense are. Those delicious, delicious books don’t write themselves or teach their own contents.

Speaking of the Harvard Libraries, they have a restructuring proposal on the table. Challenges associated with decision-making are explicitly cited. I have very mixed feelings about the plan, but that’s probably neither here nor there.

]]>
By: Historiann http://www.historiann.com/2009/11/20/excellence-without-money-part-iii-knowledge-without-books/comment-page-1/#comment-491795 Tue, 24 Nov 2009 16:56:26 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=8419#comment-491795 Mark–thanks again for your response and further clarification. As for faculty involvement: I don’t know about any standing committees, because I know that no one from my department is on it (if it exists.) We have a faculty member in our department who is a liason to our subject librarian, but that’s the only institutional link I know of. (There may be a standing committee with a representative from the Lib Arts college, but the rep isn’t a historian.)

I should have said that I am grateful for all of the work that librarians do, and that I’m amazed and how much *more* you all do now than twenty years ago and how seamlessly you’ve adapted to the demands of our new information age. I know I use journal articles a lot more since they’re all available on-line, and the whole design and maintenance of a library web page as a kind of information portal has got to be incredibly time- and resource-intensive. I know that you’re being pulled in all directions to do everything.

There was a great interview on the Diane Rehm show yesterday with Bob Darnton, the French historian who’s now director of the Harvard Libraries. He’s very much in favor of e-resources (since he’s the founder of the E-Gutenberg project), while also being a strong defender of Codex technology. (It must really help to have Harvard’s money! Most university libraries have to make choices, whereas he doesn’t, or at least not so much.)

]]>
By: Mark K. http://www.historiann.com/2009/11/20/excellence-without-money-part-iii-knowledge-without-books/comment-page-1/#comment-491728 Tue, 24 Nov 2009 16:00:16 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=8419#comment-491728 “So, scientists are permitted to do science, but when historians try to do history – by advocating preserving books and collections and building bigger libraries – what we’re doing is unproductive or somehow counterfeit?”

No, no, not at all. I simply mean that the time horizon on the commitment of resources is different in the humanities and the sciences. To access the data set and researcher’s interpretation from a science experiment doesn’t require that the science lab run the same experiment in perpetuity. (It *could*, but that’s not the disciplinary expectation.) The data set of an historical archive or print collection, on the other hand, pretty much has to stay in the same form in order to continue to be useful.

“I also don’t think librarians should be surprised when book-intensive departments like history squawk when libraries look like they’re organizing themselves around something other than books and journals.”

We’re not surprised. That’s why we get cranky–it’s so unsurprising.

Academic libraries continue to organize themselves around monographs and articles. We’re just less committed to guaranteeing that they will all be available in print on-site. I think it’s good and important for different disciplines to advocate for their different library needs. But this is best done through advocacy, not through an assumption that the default state of libraries will always be optimal for, say, historians.

I agree that historians aren’t always fully aware of what librarians do, and the converse is also true: librarians aren’t always fully aware of what historians do. In the dawn of online journal databases, for example, it took librarians a while to understand why the plain text of an article was not an adequate replacement for the image of the printed page. As a profession, we needed historians and others to explain to us the information that was being lost.

“I agree that historians should be a part of this process, but speaking for myself, that hasn’t happened at my uni.”

Why is that, do you know? At my university, we have a standing faculty committee that is a major actor in shaping the library’s strategic goals and objectives, and I’m always pushing to broaden the range of disciplines represented on it.

]]>
By: Historiann http://www.historiann.com/2009/11/20/excellence-without-money-part-iii-knowledge-without-books/comment-page-1/#comment-491629 Tue, 24 Nov 2009 14:25:44 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=8419#comment-491629 Mark K.–thanks for your reply. I see where you’re coming from, and I especially appreciate your thoughts about why the libraries get imposed upon in ways that engineering doesn’t when you write, “Librarians defend our turf too, but we tend to have a kum-ba-yah attitude about who gets to make use of that turf. So university administrators might see ‘undergraduate recruiting and retention candy’ and only the librarians will embrace it as mission-related instead of an imposition.” When you’re part of a discipline that’s ideologically pro-access (library science) rather than obfuscatory and exclusive (engineering), it’s hard to say no.

I would love to move my office to and have classrooms in the library and make the library more central to my teaching and be closer to the collections for my own research. (This would probably require a reduction in the number of students I teach each year–I personally don’t think it’s practical to have students do research papers in classes with more than 15 students.) This is the kind of intellectual use of space that most humanities faculty would be on board with. But–since space is at a premium (not to mention budgets, and FTEs), I’d rather see the library use the space for shelving the collections on-site. (I understand the need for off-site storage, by the way–I think the point at Syracuse was the scale and distance of their off-site plans, not the bare fact that some volumes would be off-site.)

Your comment about science versus the humanities, and history in particular, puzzles me. You write, “Say what one will about science labs, but once an experiment is done, the space and equipment can be used for a different experiment. (They also attract external funding and offer the chance of patent spinoff revenue in some cases.) Once a book goes on the shelf, that space is spoken for except when it is in circulation, until such time as it is weeded or sent off-site.” So, scientists are permitted to do science, but when historians try to do history–by advocating preserving books and collections and building bigger libraries–what we’re doing is unproductive or somehow counterfeit? Again–if the scientists want to go all-digital, that’s fine–there should be more room for humanities books, then. Why must we all be judged by the same standards and use the library in the same way? (This is a sensitive topic for me, since I teach at the old A&M in my state, and it’s still shocking to me, after being trained in History departments that were housed in the central administration buildings, and which were traditional feeders into college & university administration.)

I would love to work in the ways you suggest with librarians. (We have a very smart and energetic subject area librarian, whom I work with a lot, actually, and who’s a great advocate for keeping the books and journals we prize.) I’ve always thought historians and librarians had shared common goals. I don’t think historians always understand that library science is a discipline unto itself, and not just a service department for the rest of the university. But, I also don’t think librarians should be surprised when book-intensive departments like history squawk when libraries look like they’re organizing themselves around something other than books and journals. I agree that historians should be a part of this process, but speaking for myself, that hasn’t happened at my uni.

]]>
By: Mark K. http://www.historiann.com/2009/11/20/excellence-without-money-part-iii-knowledge-without-books/comment-page-1/#comment-491107 Tue, 24 Nov 2009 00:13:42 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=8419#comment-491107 Okay, (small) academic library director here, sticking my foot in it no doubt…

“Libraries are our laboratories, and our universities have already spent millions of dollars over the years building them, maintaining them, and adding to the collections.”

That’s precisely the problem. Library buildings and collections have in practice become black holes, sucking up ever more resources to maintain the same level of service.

Now, I’m a librarian, and a humanist. I would be mostly happy to see libraries take over university campuses in geometric fashion over the next 75-100 years. But I can understand why not everyone shares my preferences. Say what one will about science labs, but once an experiment is done, the space and equipment can be used for a different experiment. (They also attract external funding and offer the chance of patent spinoff revenue in some cases.) Once a book goes on the shelf, that space is spoken for except when it is in circulation, until such time as it is weeded or sent off-site.

This is another good reason to check out more books. Along with generating supportive statistics, you functionally increase the carrying capacity of the stacks. Librarians keep track of what percentage of a collection is out at any given time, and a common thing to hear is, “If everyone returned all the books, we’d have no place to put them.”

Some of these library space decisions are faddish, and some are just plain bad. But a lot of them come from looking at the overall scholarly research and publication landscape over the next 10-15 years and saying, hey, for once why don’t we get ahead of the curve?

“Interlibrary Loan is, for many of us historians, as important as an internet connection in enabling our research on anything other than local history.”

Can someone explain to me why interlibrary loan is a godsend but off-site storage is the devil? Because from a library management perspective, they function in *exactly the same way*.

“If the university really needs more coffee shops and lounges for the encouragement of student collaboration, why not carve out some space in someone else’s lab?”

Partly it’s philosophy and partly it’s politics.

On the philosophy side, the librarians are people who really are into the holistic ideal of all members of the learning community taking advantage of all resources and support services in effective and efficient ways. We’re the ultimate generalists. A lot of us want the writing center and the computer lab and the tutors and the cafe to be right there with all our cool books and periodicals and databases. (If someone could figure out a way to incorporate dorm rooms into the library, we’d probably jump on that opportunity too.) Whether that is the best delivery model for all these services is certainly debatable, but librarians as a class are predisposed to liking the grand unifying service narrative.

Which leads to the political side: Librarians tend to be the ones sucker enough to go for that kind of plan. The engineering lab might dedicate collaborative space for engineering students–but for all students in all disciplines and degree levels? Not likely. In my experience, turf is ferociously defended in higher education. Librarians defend our turf too, but we tend to have a kum-ba-yah attitude about who gets to make use of that turf. So university administrators might see “undergraduate recruiting and retention candy” and only the librarians will embrace it as mission-related instead of an imposition.

And we’re not even completely bullshitting ourselves. We pay close attention to the actual usage of those impressive collections we’ve built up in our impressive buildings. (Okay, in my particular case, neither is so impressive, but you get the idea.) Along with circulation, library staff have traditional tracked in-house usage by paying attention to what items get left on reading room tables, etc. And the usage statistics are depressing. Grim. The great majority of what we own is rarely used, and a sizeable chunk is never used even once. “Just in case” becomes harder to justify as our budgets shrink more and more and more. So we start looking at “just in time.”

Here is my cranky suggestion, born as much out of frustration as disagreement with the post’s overall message. Do historians want a Humanities Laboratory? Then work with the librarians on making one. Embrace undergraduate research initiatives. Advocate moving the humanities faculty offices into the re-envisioned library. Help us to maintain on-site collection sizes while *also* achieving our own generalist disciplinary goals (read: learning commons and institutional repositories). Stop the pattern of protesting decisions you don’t like and ignoring the librarians the rest of the time. Be constructive partners. Librarians have been trying to partner with faculty on issues of shared concern for years, and the result has been patronizing head-pats at best and open mockery at worst. If that’s how it’s going to be, you can run your own damn libraries and see how easy it is.

]]>
By: Bavardess http://www.historiann.com/2009/11/20/excellence-without-money-part-iii-knowledge-without-books/comment-page-1/#comment-490239 Mon, 23 Nov 2009 03:18:26 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=8419#comment-490239 I’m with thefrogprincess on this one. I’ve found some of my most useful and interesting sources by browsing the shelves near the specific book(s) I went to get in the first place. Scanning the relevant shelves at random is also a good cue for lateral thinking.

]]>
By: Roxie http://www.historiann.com/2009/11/20/excellence-without-money-part-iii-knowledge-without-books/comment-page-1/#comment-489227 Sun, 22 Nov 2009 02:48:46 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=8419#comment-489227 OMG, another totally fabulous seal that my typist will have to steal and use at some point very soon! Didn’t even read the post, ‘cos, you know, for us it’s all about slogans and eye candy. Paws up on both counts.

]]>
By: Comrade PhysioProf http://www.historiann.com/2009/11/20/excellence-without-money-part-iii-knowledge-without-books/comment-page-1/#comment-488945 Sat, 21 Nov 2009 21:16:49 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=8419#comment-488945 You history buffs are just jealous that you don’t have armies of post-docs to march around. HUT! TWO! THREE! FOUR!

]]>
By: undine http://www.historiann.com/2009/11/20/excellence-without-money-part-iii-knowledge-without-books/comment-page-1/#comment-488222 Sat, 21 Nov 2009 02:13:11 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=8419#comment-488222 Great post. “Humanities laboratories”–let’s spread the word on this.

]]>