Books – And Libraries To Hold Them – Still Essential

The University of Chicago has previously been in the higher education news because it is bucking the trend of some peer institutions to reduce or eliminate campus space for books. At Chicago they are planning a $42 million expansion of the Joseph Regenstein Library to make room for 3.5 million volumes. As part of the planning process the University conducted a survey that collected information on the library usage habits of 5,700 students. While the survey indicates that students prefer to use online journals over print, it clearly shows that heavy digital media users are heavy physical media users. The poll findings will be presented Thursday, Nov. 17, at a conference titled “Space and Knowledge,” which will explore the use of libraries on campus. If any of our ACRLog readers attends the conference please consider sharing your notes as a blog post here at ACRLog.

Whither ACRLog?

The launch of ACRLog last week generated some buzz among library blogs, but also some questions. Since this blog is a work in progress, it’s worth collecting some of those comments to think about how they might guide future developments.

InfoMan started out with an easy one, asking if we should pronounce the name of our endeavor as “A-C-R-L-og” or “A-C-R-log”. For the record, I have no idea. I’ve been using the latter, but I’ve already found blogs where that has resulted in our parent organization being referred to as “ACR,” so maybe that won’t work.

DrWeb was excited about the potential for our fostering a “discussion of overarching ideas, issues, and matters of debate within the college and research library community.” I agree, but how do we identify those ideas, issues, etc., and, from a design point of view, how do we build them into the architecture of this site? Do we, for example, adopt Hisle’s still-excellent listing of top issues? Do we create feature discussions on issues identified either by the ACRL President or as part of the ACRL strategic plan? More broadly, how do we allow for grassroots discussions of issues while being, at the same time, the “official” blog of ACRL? Again, I don’t have the answer, but it’s something that we on the Advisory Board will have to look at as this project gets off the ground.

But, it was really John Dupuis who asked the questions where the rubber hits the road, for example, how do we expand the list of contributors (both at the “comment” and the “posting” level) to better reflect the broad diversity in the college and research library community? We’ve asked ourselves that a number of times, as we have asked how to bring the best of the college and research library-oriented discussion happening on other blogs into this discussion space. One way, of course, is for interested library bloggers to seek appointment to the ACRL Blog Advisory Board (see this month’s C&RL News). The BAB is an editorial appointment like any other and there are terms of appointment that follow the guidelines established throughout ACRL. If you want in, volunteer. There have to be others ways, though, and we’d like to hear your ideas.

Finally, one blogger (and I apologize for not saving the link) asked some very important questions, e.g.: (1) how does an ongoing blog sponsored by an ALA division complement the information, discussion, and community already available by other means, both official (e.g., ACRL electronic discussion lists) and unofficial (e.g., blogs such as those mentioned above); and (2) how does an ongoing blog integrate the periodic increase in official blogging that have started to revolve around conference reports. The PLA blog provides some insight, but, like everything else, this is a moving target.

We welcome your input and hope to see more of you on the “comment” logs and (some of you) in the volunteer stream for new BAB members after Midwinter.

Open Your Browser and…

Another interesting piece in the Chronicle’s special supplement on libraries – this one from a professor of English who worries open stacks are a thing of the past. In “Libraries Lost” Fred D. White expresses dismay that automated retrieval, remote storage, and dependence on online browsing will discourage serendipity and diminish the possibility that students will experience the tactile pleasures of books.

Contrary to any number of “next gen” or “millenial” predictions, the students I know are fond of physical books and mostly averse to online versions. Once they get the hang of the unfamiliar LC system, they use browsing effectively as a necessary supplement to online searching. Cataloging and classification truly do belong together as the yin and yang of discovery.

There is an issue that faces libraries, though–where do you put all the stuff? Apart from adding space or converting the social areas into stacks, there’s the problem that good books will be lost in the clutter – and in that way be just as inaccessible as if they were in remote storage. College libraries do a much better job of choosing new books carefully than getting rid of books that frankly aren’t useful anymore. Yes, one can debate “useful to whom?” but for libraries concentrating on building a solid collection for undergraduates, we need to pay as much attention to what shouldn’t be on the shelves anymore as to what’s missing when we think about collection development.

Intellectual Freedom And Academic Freedom

I’m at the Pennsylvania Library Association Conference the next few days. I just left Carrie Gardner’s (faculty at Catholic U.’s LIS) presentation on “Communicating Your Intellectual Freedom Message.” Although it was geared somewhat more to the public library sector I think Carrie gave some great advice for understanding what information is illegal (e.g., child pornography, libel, slander, dangerous speech and obscenity) versus what might be deemed offensive, disturbing or unethical. Her key point was that we all need to be effective communicators when it comes to sending out a strong message that there are critically important reasons why our libraries must have the freedom to collect and offer access to a wide variety of materials in all formats, even some that might offend – as long as they are not illegal. I asked Carrie about academic freedom versus intellectual freedom, and whether the latter does afford some protections to those who lack academic freedom. This is one of those “gray area” issues. At many of our institutions, and it can certainly depend where it falls within the conservative-liberal spectrum, non-tenured staff may have a wide berth in their rights to speak and write what they like because there is a fundamental belief in the importance of intellectual freedom and the contribution it makes to a spirtited academic environment. However, Carrie was clear that intellectual freedom, despite its conceptual benefits, would not provide the protections of academic freedom. This is a fairly complex issue that I’ll continue to explore, but I’m glad that Carrie is out there teaching our future students about and working with ALA on these issues. If you want to share your perspectives on or interpretation of how intellectual freedom relates to academic librarianship and would like to help us explore and understand it further, we invite your comments or will consider publishing a post from you.