Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

The Library of the Future, with Graham Crackers

There’s a saying that as California goes, so goes the nation, and the last few years of recession and bloated government budgets have proven that saying correct. In academia, a better saying might be that as Harvard goes, so goes the nation, because every university has Harvard envy.

If that’s the case with libraries, we might all be in trouble. The best darned library magazine in the world had a story last week about a bizarre experiment at Harvard, the Harvard Labrary. It’s in a building on Harvard Square and has some wacky art projects in it.

There’s a “Bookface,” where people can lie down on the floor inside a taped victim outline and have their photos taken with their face covered by a book…no, wait, a laptop. I guess Laptopface sounded too dirty.

And there are “Topical Tables,” which are tables that make noise, just what every library wants. At those tables, the ideal books would be ones that played little songs when opened, like those annoying greeting cards.

And “Graham Grams,” which “use a device similar to a credit card imprinter to let visitors print an edible telegram with icing on a graham cracker while (possibly) thinking about the impermanence of information and communication.” (And with that “(possibly)” even the reporter indicates she’s having trouble taking any of this seriously.)

Impermanence of information? Harvard has tens of millions of books in their collection. That’s pretty permanent.

There’s also an inflatable room that you can sit in. There were no details about whether the floor was bouncy or not, but it should have been.

Oh, and it’s supposed to be some sort of experiment about the future of libraries. You can tell some serious future-thought went into this.

To give you an idea of the serious thought involved, here’s some advice of one of the students involved: “There’s a lot of talk about how libraries should change, but very few ideas of how they should be shaped…. Every library should figure out what they want to be and just do that. Don’t try to be all things to all people.”

He’s right that a lot of people are talking about how libraries should change, but the people I hear talking actually have some ideas. Sometimes they’re terrible ideas, but the librarians are passionate about them.

And then all that to set up the most banal advice ever given to a library: figure out what you want to be and just do that. Oh, okay. It’s all so simple when you put it like that. My library wants to be a big building with lots of books, computers, and places to sit. Mission accomplished! We won’t be all things to all people, particularly people who want us to ice their graham crackers for them.

According to the article, “One question this library-labeled sandbox asks is: What is a library besides the collections? What else is a library for?” That’s two questions, but anyway.

What else is a library for? Hmm. Reading, maybe. Writing. Probably some arithmetic. Meeting with other people.

I’m not sure what making iced graham crackers and lying down on the floor have to do with anything a library might want to do, but they’re “fun,” so that’s probably enough.

One unhappy Harvard librarian commented:

Am I the only Harvard librarian who finds this project demoralizing and condescending?

They’ve basically put some art exhibits in a space named with a bad pun, and with great hubris and fanfare called it “reimagining” a library.

Not a single information-centered concept, either.

Information? You want information? Maybe they could use the icing to write words on the graham crackers.

It’s all pretty ridiculous and has nothing to do with libraries, but it could be worse. At least they’re not saying librarians should ice graham crackers and build inflatable rooms to break those librarian stereotypes.



  1. They should also throw in laser tag… you know… because… RFID!

  2. ChickenPolitics says:

    My university’s library is well on its way to transforming itself into a satellite of the student union. It’s becoming the last place to find solitude for an individual’s studies.

  3. This reminds me of when I went to an annual “information services” statewide workshop. The speaker was, well, he’s quite self-congratulatory on his website. He said that any students who go to actual libraries (as in buildings) were “losers”. Forty-five minutes later he mentioned some finding of his “research”, which he had conducted by watching – you guessed it – students who go to libraries. But, if these students were “losers”, then why was he basing some advice on what they were doing. I should have called him on this but at that point didn’t have the guts. Or maybe there were still too many “change agents” who hadn’t retired yet in the audience.

  4. Everyone knows that anyone who wants to do serious academic library work does so online. Since many academic libraries now even deliver dead-tree resources, why not make entertaining use of the underutilized space?

    • ChickenPolitics says:

      In my mind, serious academic work conjures up images of a researcher digging through undigitized historical archives and visiting Special Collections departments to inspect physical objects.

    • Serious academic library work means actually reading a printed book and correctly citing it.

  5. Tired Librarian says:

    In my mind, a serious but splendiferous academic library confures up images of massive digitization projects so that I DON”T have to visit Special Collections or spend thousands to visit libraries abroad. Harvard has contributed in that way.

    At the same time, these sound like totally dumbass and pretentious stunts.

    • ChickenPolitics says:

      So long as the academic bubble does not burst, Harvard certainly can utilize its resources, unavailable to other institutions, to embark on massive projects.

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