Annoyed Librarian
Search LibraryJournal.com ....
Subscribe to LJ
Inside Annoyed Librarian

The Purge, Library Style

Kind Reader sent me the latest pearl-clutching article on libraries weeding books, and it’s quite a read. The online journal bills itself as “a refuge for rational discourse,” and if that’s true we’re all in trouble.

The headline is the usual sensationalistic nonsense clickbait we’ve come to expect from pretty much all media: “College Libraries are Purging Book Collections. Are They Discarding Thought as Well?”

I’ll go with Betteridge’s Law of Headlines again on this one. Are they discarding thought as well? No. And you’re either foolish to ask or desperate for something to write about.

Libraries are “purging books from” their shelves. That does sound dramatic. It’s not like a library ever removed little used books or anything.

Besides whatever “local university campus” the disturbed author visited last fall, the only library mentioned is UC-Santa Cruz, a situation I discussed several months ago.

Because she apparently doesn’t know better, the author takes the complaints of the enraged faculty member seriously, and writes this with a straight digital face:

But that isn’t exactly what’s bothering faculty. They recognize that digital research is good, popular, and efficient. What worries them is the straightjacket such moves put on the flow of student thought-processes:

“Richard Montgomery, a UC Santa Cruz math professor, said online access or interlibrary loans are fine for those who know exactly what they need. What’s gone is the ability to browse for ideas.”

A straightjacket on the flow of student thought-processes? Does that even make sense? Let’s go with “no, it doesn’t make sense.”

And what is gone, lost to the ravages of time, is the ability to browse for ideas! It’s hard not to laugh at that.

But instead of finding that statement ridiculous, as I do, the author is sure it’s true. The reason she knows it’s true? Personal experience, and who can argue with that these days. If you feel it’s true, it must be true. But if that’s true, you don’t need libraries.

As someone who has turned to the internet during writer’s block one too many times, I can testify to the truth of Montgomery’s statement. You see, digital resources are great if one simply wants to focus on headlines or the superficial chatter which happens to be trending on social media. But if one is looking to dig deeper and be exposed to the concepts which underlie those same headlines and trending topics, then browsing through book titles and authors is much more likely to unearth gems of knowledge which many have forgotten.

It’s hard to know where to begin with such nonsense, so let’s begin at the beginning.

Turning to the internet during writer’s block doesn’t give anyone the authority to “testify” to the truth of that statement. The internet is not equivalent to the discovery resources available through university libraries. It’s not surprising that people without the resources a university like Santa Cruz can provide don’t know that, but if you don’t know what you’re talking about maybe you just shouldn’t talk.

But don’t let that stop you, because “digital resources are great if one simply wants to focus on headlines or the superficial chatter which happens to be trending on social media.”

And what does that have to do with searching library resources? Is she really saying that searching a library catalog will give you “superficial chatter” from social media? That’s ridiculous. Searching library catalogs will give you superficial chatter from bona fide scholars!

But please, Person-who-doesn’t-do-library-research, please tell us how it’s done: “But if one is looking to dig deeper and be exposed to the concepts which underlie those same headlines and trending topics, then browsing through book titles and authors is much more likely to unearth gems of knowledge which many have forgotten.”

And why did I say the person doesn’t do any research in libraries? Because “browsing through book titles and authors” is one of the few things you can actually do with library catalogs. It’s almost as if, wait for it, they were designed for that!

I looked at the UC-Santa Cruz library website. From one search box you can search for books in the Santa Cruz library, books available through all the UC libraries (MELVYL), and books available worldwide (i.e., WorldCat).

That’s a whole lot of books and authors to browse through!

And it gets even better. Not only can you browse through the books, but you can search for them by title, author, subject, or even keyword if you’re really lost.

Unlike the internet, these “library catalogs” allow all sorts of ways to cut through the “superficial chatter” people are used to with Google or Twitter and get to scholarly books on just about any topic. I know, it’s a crazy world, but it’s the one we’ve been living in for the last century or so.

The worried author seems to confuse “digital” with “websites available on the internet,” and that’s a mistake only someone unfamiliar with libraries can do. Most scholarly journal articles have been digital-only resources for many years, and OPACs aren’t Google and ebooks aren’t websites.

Thus, she conflates turning “libraries into sleek halls of digital study” with “encouraging young people to focus on the superficial.” Young people are always going to focus on the superficial because they’re young and foolish, but looking for books in a library catalog isn’t exactly a newfangled way of ruining students.

Instead of worrying about the kids today, worry about yourself first. Don’t let the superficial chatter on the internet stand in for actual knowledge about libraries. Or just don’t write about libraries like you know what you’re talking about. Either is fine.

Share

Comments

  1. More tired than retired says:

    What really gets me about AL’s treatment here (and in previously their previous discussion of the happenings at UCSC) and about the “post-book library” in general, is the conflation of access with service.

    It’s not that UCSC liquidated part of their print collection; it’s that they did so, by the sounds, with minimal consultation with students or faculty, and with a limited understanding of how the collection was being used and by whom (things which are not necessarily reflected in circulation statistics). While the withdrawn titles are still accessible (for now) online or via ILL, both the notion that libraries exist to serve a public and librarian (aka administrative) interest in meeting and engaging with needs and concerns of that public are being cast out along side our physical collections.

    Providing access is not the same as, nor is it surrogate or replacement for providing service. Librarians are not providers of access; we are service providers. We are public servants. It is not the students or faculty’s role to select and deselect material, but is certainly their role to weigh in on these processes if they choose (especially in weeding projects as extensive as this one was), and it is absolutely our role to solicit and respond to their feedback. Our job, as librarians, is to engage, listen to and to support our patrons’ research, learning and information seeking endeavors. Our job is to ask and reflect in our service offerings what and how students and faculty choose study, conduct their research, interact with and use our collections, or interact with us as service providers. It is not our role to tell them what they need, shush and belittle them, or to force feed them a bunch of drivel about how “all libraries are going digital.” In addition to doing our patrons a disservice, we are doing ourselves and our profession a disservice.

    AL, your attitude is representative of everything that is wrong with the “future of academic libraries.” Perhaps it would serve you to review your own comment policy: 1. Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.

  2. Allison says:

    Anecdote isn’t evidence, I know, but I’m chiming in with my experience of when an online catalogue doesn’t suffice. The online catalogue is excellent if you have some idea what you want to find, but when I was writing my thesis, I got several good ideas for new avenues of research from browsing the shelves near my research interest. That’s something a keyword or subject search can’t provide. If you don’t know yet what you don’t know, searching online won’t help.
    I mourn the remote storage at my university’s library, and have stopped supporting my university because they switched to that. One can’t browse their stacks anymore.

    • anonymous coward says:

      Yes- serendipitous discovery is amazing and important and… almost all but gone the way of the dodo. I think tech will probably evolved to simulate this.

  3. Browsing physical books on academic library shelves does appear to be a good way to find new ideas, related or not to one’s area of interest. Looking through books for sale at a local bookstore does seem to be a different experience than looking online. The different methods lead to different paths of discovery. There is still value in browsing, paging, and combing through hard-copy books, as well as walking through the different subject sections and coming across interesting finds.

  4. Mary Kelleher says:

    “online access or interlibrary loans are fine for those who know exactly what they need” You know what you should do if you don’t know exactly what you need? How about ask the librarian (trained to conduct a reference interview) for help. “But if one is looking to dig deeper and be exposed to the concepts which underlie those same headlines and trending topics, then browsing through book titles and authors is much more likely to unearth gems of knowledge which many have been forgotten.” You know what would be an even better way than browsing of finding resources on your topic that are relevant and valuable? Ask the librarian (who has knowledge of the collection since they just went through it in a weeding project) for help.

Comment Policy:
  1. Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  2. Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  3. Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  4. Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media, per our Terms of Use.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through (though some comments with links to multiple URLs are held for spam-check moderation by the system). If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

We accept clean XHTML in comments, but don't overdo it and please limit the number of links submitted in your comment. For more info, see the full Terms of Use.

Speak Your Mind

*

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

Optimization WordPress Plugins & Solutions by W3 EDGE