I got to last week’s comments late, because for some reason the email notification failed, and with the semester starting up everything’s busier in general. Glancing through, I noticed a comment that just had to be from another resentful public librarian. Here’s part of it:
Can you explain the academic importance of hosting LAN parties at University Libraries? Or on campus at all for that matter? Or better yet, explain the Elon University Rave Party. The staff put it on Youtube. Is that a literary program? The fact is, if the students and teachers could get away with doing all their research online, they would happily cut your fat from the budget.
Oh, and although I know the rave didn’t happen at YOUR library, you are an academic librarian and therefore share responsibility for the asinine idea. Much like you blame all public librarians for all of the dumb schemes their colleagues think of to bring people into their library.
It seems a legitimate, if resentful and poorly reasoned comment. Those are always the most enjoyable ones to respond to.
First of all, I would never attempt to explain the happenings at universities I’ve never heard of. It’s the same policy that keeps me from applying to jobs at places I’ve never heard of. And I’ve never heard of Elon University. If there weren’t a YouTube video confirming its existence, I’d accuse you of making it up.
However, it seems to me the librarians at Elon University – if such a place truly exists – have forgotten what an academic library is supposed to be. Academic libraries have a clear mission, which means they don’t have to engage in such nonsense. Or maybe the library just has the best public space on campus, and it’s the space rather than the library that determined where the party was.
But if it was indeed a library initiative, it’s easily explained. The librarians at Elon have forgotten the academic mission of the library. And if the librarians there are faculty, it’s even worse. One wouldn’t expect a rave party in the lounge of other academic departments.
Academic libraries don’t need hair-brained schemes to bring people into the library. Either students and faculty need the library, or they don’t. If no one’s doing any academic research, which seems to be the case at many so-called universities, then they don’t really need a library.
The comment speculating that if students and faculty could do most of their research “online,” they’d get rid of the library indicates the commenter probably isn’t familiar with academic libraries. (And I’ll ignore the foolish assumption that the faculty or students have any real power to fund or not fund anything in today’s typical corporate university.) Students and faculty have been doing the majority of their research online for at least a decade. It just so happens that the library selects, pays for, and organizes the online material that’s used for research. Web of Science doesn’t pay for itself, and most people need a little librarian help before they can get much out of Lexis-Nexis.
As for me personally being responsible, that’s just dumb, especially as it’s based on the entirely false claim that I blame all public librarians for anything. If anything, public librarians blame me for stuff!
I point out that if libraries are associated in the public mind with videogames and Internet porn, then politicians will be more likely to defund them in tough times, and public librarians blame the messenger when it proves I’m right. In tough times, voters and politicians will cut anything that seems unnecessary. Literacy is a necessary public good; videogaming is not. Nor is dispelling librarian stereotypes.
I understand why public libraries want to be everything to everyone all the time, but I certainly can’t understand why any academic librarians would think that way. Academic libraries are necessary for some types of academic research. They buy materials to support that and are useful for helping students learn to do some of that research. That’s about it. Anything that doesn’t support that research is just taking money and time away from more worthwhile projects, and there’s never enough money to support all the things faculty want from the library, or at least there isn’t at my library or most of the ones I know about.
And anything that detracts from the more or less serious purpose of the library is disingenuous. Handing out pizza and pop to new students while explaining how the library works is one thing. Hosting a party to show how fun (!) the library can be just pulls a bait and switch. Academic libraries are already fun for people who like to do research. If people want to dance, they can go to the student union. If academic libraries want to be considered fun places, they need better instruction librarians to show students how enjoyable research on an interesting topic can be. Hosting parties is easier, I suppose.
I don’t usually write about academic libraries, not because I don’t think a lot of stupid things go on in them, but because many readers of this blog wouldn’t understand the issues. There aren’t newspaper articles about academic libraries. Academic libraries figure not at all in ALA pronouncements about libraries. Most people can’t use academic libraries, so they’re not familiar with them. Most public librarians don’t seem familiar with the issues, either. Just about anything the ALA, politicians, the public, and other librarians say about “libraries” doesn’t apply to academic libraries.
Besides, I tend to respond to what I’ve found posted in Libraryland, and none of the stupidest stuff is posted by academic librarians. Some of the most puerile nonsense about libraries comes from people who work for vendors but claim they’re librarians, or who work in public libraries but don’t really do library work, or who used to work in public libraries but left for greener pastures, and they never talk about stuff related to academic libraries. If you want me making fun of academic libraries, you need more stupid stuff being published by academic librarians. Simple as that.
Both public and academic libraries make a lot of mistakes. Academic libraries have a very clear mission, but often penury or incompetence keep them from fulfilling that mission. Public libraries don’t seem to know what their mission is, which makes fulfillment impossible. I don’t know which problem is easier to solve, but I know which is easier to write about.