Friday, September 15, 2006

A library should be more than a study hall and a computer lab!

The link in the title above (and the wonderful semi-quote) come from an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Sept. 1, 2006, by Scott Carlson. Titled "Library Renovatin Leads to Soul Searching at Cal Poly: Professors and librarians complain about a shift from print to online materials," the article examines the front lines of the battle between print and digital materials.

At Cal State Polytechnic University at Pomona, a shaved budget for library renovation led to reduced space for books. When the original weeding program still left too many books for the reduced floor space, the dean of libraries, Harold B. Schleifer asked his librarians to discard books that "hadn't been checked out in a decade, and if copies were available at nearby libraries, or if it was damaged,...."

The disturbed librarians staged a revolt by alerting faculty to the lists of materials, declaring the plan "penny-wise by pount foolish" and "antithetical to our professional values." According to the article,

When Ms. Bricker, the architectural historian, heard that JSTOR journals were sent to the trash and that books were going to storage, she was dismayed. "I began to read about other, even more serious research institutions than ours that are succumbing to this — digitizing books and not seeing the value of the physical object," she says. "I thought, This is a trend, and our librarian probably just feels that he is keeping up."

Zuoyue Wang, an associate professor of history at Cal Poly, makes looking through journal articles an important part of his courses, which cover the history of science. While so many materials have been put into deep storage during the library renovation, getting books through neighboring college libraries has worked well, he says, and "JSTOR has been a lifesaver."

But he did not know that the library had completely discarded the old paper versions of journals archived on JSTOR. "As a historian, I'm concerned," he says. "When you discard journals, students lose the ability to browse. That's something I would regret. I can see why the library would take that step, but I wish they would have let us know."

"We're spending all of this money on the physical space," he says. "We're getting a better library, but not a better collection."

Joseph Branin, director of libraries at Ohio State University, which is also undergoing a renovation, says Cal Poly's experience is not all that unusual.

"Every big academic library that is going through a space redesign is faced with this issue," he says. "There is certainly more and more talk among librarians about what print material to keep, what to store, and what to discard." Ohio State's library once held 2.2 million items on its shelves, but Mr. Branin says materials have gradually migrated to an off-site storage facility. After the renovation, Ohio State's library will have room for 1.5 million volumes. Some at Ohio State think the library should hold more, he says, and some think it should hold less.

When a library purges materials to prepare for a renovation, the process has to be done carefully, with consideration for the library's position in its region, Mr. Branin says. "You have to do a lot of consulting, and a lot of explaining, and try as best you can to get your constituents to understand and cooperate with you," he says. "If you do it too fast, if you do it without careful planning, and if you do it in opposition to a lot of constituents, you're going to get in trouble."

1 comment:

Jacqueline Cantwell said...

This entry brought out how different an academic library is from a court library and how much I rely upon the public’s ideal of a library for my own space within the courthouse.

Few court librarians have research level collections, but like academic librarians, we work in a spaces designed for values bigger than personal concerns. For a library to be nothing more than a study hall or computer lab is a dreary picture—dreary because the picture is not of a well-portioned room containing the record of thought, but of a grubby space where rushed individuals concentrate on tasks.

A well proportioned room, instead of making you feel confined, can, with the manipulation of light and line, give you a sense that your thought can extend to its fullest expression. Just as we must insist upon the value of books and objects, we must promote the value of spaces dedicated to civic purposes.

A well-designed and managed library encourages users to respect their desires for knowledge and skills. Within my courthouse, judges, attorneys, and the general public value our staff’s efforts, but they also view the library as a refuge from the pressures of trial practice. The court library’s image draws upon their memories of gracious public spaces.