Annoyed Librarian
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What about those Academics?

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.

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Comments

  1. Real Librarian says:

    What about special libraries?

  2. Bruce Campbell says:

    Did AL’s post make anyone else horny?

    I’m also interested in Special Libraries. They get no coverage or attention.

    Thank you AL for explaining your process in creating this enjoyable column.

  3. The point about ALA is interesting: all their pronouncements tend to be about public libraries, and yet, every major conference, so on tends to be more geared at academics (sure, there are things like ACRL, but let’s be honest, it is still under the ALA umbrella).

    Oh, and believe me, between the corporate mentality and the bureaucracy, there is plenty of stupid stuff happening in academic libraries. Too bad it does not get into the blogs, so on.

  4. StellaT says:

    I work at a Museum (aka Special) Library and administration tried to talk me into holding gaming events in my library. It’s a farging disease. We’re a research library not a glorified daycare.

  5. LibTag says:

    Very good points! I’ve worked in all types of libraries, but the most frustrating, but also fun! was the Public setting. We were policing people 85% of the time. I hated it. But I loved it when elderly people came in and asked about how to find a poem or how to get a definition of some disease their doc said they had. Well, I didn’t love that they had a disease, I loved being able to help them. And it was mostly the older population that used us in this manner.

    Most Academic librarians have a mission because they are working in a library that is *required* to exist for the purpose of accreditation. Even the tiniest school needs to provide library services. And believe you me, if academic libraries were not required to exist, in many lousy little schools with nearsighted presidents, they would most certainly *not* exist!

  6. Eleanor Cook says:

    I’m sorry, but I just have to make a comment about this blog entry. Just because you are a public librarian doesn’t mean you can’t do a little research of your own. Public librarians are allowed to help people with research needs too aren’t they? They just don’t do children story hours and run homeless people out the building, right? You could have very easily looked up Elon University to see what was up with the situation and reported the facts, rather than wasting our time with your speculations and insults.

    Making sweeping generalizations about academic libraries (like this entire blog entry is full of and I just did deliberately above – as a sarcastic example)is a waste of time here.

    I think LJ would do better to have a Blogger who is willing to take the time to be a little more thoughtful and accurate with their comments.

  7. Kate Hickey says:

    It might help also to research raves — author is clearly confused between club raves held in commercial establishments and the current undergraduate fad of semi-spontaneous “raves,” in which the students storm a campus building (often, but not always, the library), dance crazily, and then disappear. Perhaps inappropriate but definitely not a “scheme to bring people into the library.”

  8. Pessimistic librarian says:

    Raves or “flash mobs” or spontaneous crowd compustion seems like a de rigeur ritual of student academic life, not really library oriented or backed. If college libraries engage in this to get people into the library, librarianship has reached a new low and is in serious trouble due to the irrelevance of this profession, academic or otherwise.

  9. No. 6 says:

    Some of these respondents do not seem to have read anything about the Elon U event before replying. A quick Google search brought up this year’s http://www.elon.edu/pendulum/Story.aspx?id=2734 and last year’s http://www.elon.edu/pendulum/Story.aspx?id=2797 student newspaper articles about this.

    This year the rave is a planned homecoming event. Last year I surmise it was also planned as pizza was served.

    See, the library is fun, boys and girls!

  10. No. 6 says:

    Although I suppose it is possible that the students bought the pizza. The Belk Library certainly does appear to be embracing the rave event this year.

    Can we blame them? Look at the attention it has gotten them. If you can’t be a great research library, throw a great party.

  11. Bibliotecher says:

    Hey now!

    I’ve seen cars with “Elon University” stickers on the rear window.

    Then again, I’ve also seen cars with “Starfleet Academy” ones too…

    Maybe you’re onto something.

  12. Mr. Kat says:

    Elenor Cook, yes, the public librarians can do research too – but it’s kind of like watching the kiddies “play house” or “play doctor” or “play work.” It’s cute at first, amusing for a while and eventually just plain annoying. Luckily for public librarins, most of their patrons are “playing life” anyways, so it’s a perfect fit.

    In a professional realm, however, those results are similar to how a PhD Earth Scientist would react if you have him the Fifth grade level curriculum results on the structure of the earth. Yes, it is similar to the diagram he has on his office wall, but his diagram contains a PhD level of knowledge about the interior of the earth and it’s at the current theorectical level of understanding, not the level of understanding that is sooooo very ten or twenty years ago.

    Academic librarians are the “professional” researchers in the profession – and even then, due to the brevity of the research being conducted on many campuses, the general librarians are about as good as public librarians. If your are at a rich university, you might have a librarian assigned to you [oh we researchers wish!!] who is current ont he knowledge int eh field and automatically reads everythign on the subject as it comes in off the wire – and only forwards the good stuff. What’s good? Well, that tells you how well proficient a research librarian must be in the field in order to gain the trust and respect of the respective research fields.

    In most cases though, the research technicians/specialists in some labs and those sstudents who are acutally working hard [they're typically fellows, cum laude, honors students, never had an A- in their life sort of people] might as well be called research librarians, as many of them have a better working knowledge of the resources in their subject at the library than the very academic librarians themselves have. Been there, done that. It’s not a bad thing though, for on a truly competant campus where the subjects have real reputable academic acclaim, there really is no need for research lirbarians in the first place. Part of being a researcher is having a solid foundation in research principles in the first place.
    Otherwise, librarians are there to keep materials on the shelf [library technician jobs] and keep the building doors manned and open – and solicit money and research grants for library science, of course!!! It’s good for academic libraries to have a couple staff on had to police policies, give directions on how to use the copy machines, fix the computers, put paper in the printers, and give the “once upon a freshman” class on reseach methods.

    But even that last part is unnecessary as well – every Freshamn class I took had a “research methods” component within it, usually delivered within the first couple weeks, where we all went to the library and conducted research for a project. And it was very typical that the person teaching us how to use the library was not the librarians, but rather the professor of the class and the grad assistants. It’s surprising how easy it is to gain a relative level of competancy in library science…aha.aha.aha…

    As my old boss said, Leave the library OUT of it!!!

  13. Techserving You says:

    …what? Starfleet Academy is not real? Since I’m in New England, I seriously thought it was just another lower-tier private school with a weird name. I guess I’m not the Star Trek fan I thought I was.

  14. “First of all, I would never attempt to explain the happenings at universities I’ve never heard of . . . And I’ve never heard of Elon University.”

    Such a sad comment. Please don’t slam an institution, which you proudly proclaim you know nothing about, just because you don’t like a program.