Take A Look At The Online Discussions

Since we have a few posts about the Chronicle’s special report on academic libraries, I’ll just add that I’d encourage readers to go to the Chronicle site to take a look at the comments being added to the online discussions for the tenure debate articles and the one on left-wing echo chamber. I added my comments to both of the discussions if you want to see what I had to say about these issues. But I will say that Barbara and I don’t exactly disagree on the tenure for librarians issue, but she certainly feels more strongly that it is necessary than do I.

New Academic Libraries




TCNJ Library

Originally uploaded by Marc Meola.

Scott Carlson has a good article (subscription required) in the Chronicle’s special section on libraries in which he touches on the major issues and trends in the design and building of new academic libraries. Here at TCNJ, our library followed the alluded to formula of natural light + cherry wood + comfy chairs + internet connections = 200% gate increase. Why not just build a big study hall? Why not just build a big computer lab? It turns out the library is a complex place that cannot be reduced to any one of its amenties or services. When we first moved into our new building, some of our materials, archives in particular, took a little longer to get out of the moving boxes. What are the chances someone would ask for an item from archives in the first weeks? But ask they did. And they asked for books. And bound periodicals. And microfilm even. (Microfilm!) As well as for computers with word, for printers, and for librarians they knew by name. Could it be that the romantic notion of the library as the heart of campus is not all sentiment and symbolism, and that there really is something to this idea of library as place?

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.

Beyond the Bomb Builder at the Reference Desk – When Information Has Social Costs

A standard ethical question raised in library school classes is some variation of dilemma of the hypothetical bomb builder who comes to the reference desk asking for information. You’re the reference librarian–what do you do? David Wessel in “Better Information Isn’t Always Beneficial,” in the Wall Street Journal (free) points to more subtle cases of information ethics in which technology makes it easier and faster to obtain information that has detrimental social costs, such as finding out which judge is more likely to grant you a patent or rigging Congressional districts so that one party is guaranteed to win. Librarians tend to think that more information is always better and anything less is censorship. These examples, however, call that view into question. Discussion of the social costs of the use of information fits into standard five of the Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education to “understand the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information, and access and use information ethically and legally.”