Monday, May 16, 2005

Librarians on Libraries

The Divine Miss Daisy, from the blog I Still Have a Snake, responded to my griping about libraries and so forth. Since she is a librarian, and quite cool, here are her thoughts:

"It seems to me that what they've done at University of Texas is to move the books away from the undergrad library and into the stacks at the main library. I can't say I think that's a great idea, but I sort of get it. What they've done is turned the undergrad library into something between a library and a computer lab, but not quite either."

Yes, I guess I can see the idea behind it. People do find worthwhile information on the net. I use Gallica Classique all the time. I mean, I'm not a complete luddite, although grad student is pretty much a monastic position. I think our undergrad library actually has no books on the main floor, although it does on the other two floors.
I guess the problem I have is that I'm on the end that assigns course-work and we don't really assign the internet, you know? I'd love to think that students would order books and have them delivered, but I hate to think that we're giving them the impression that we really take crap factories like Wikipedia seriously.

"That's a wonderful idea, actually, although I don't think I'd call it a library any more. I'd have built it in a third building and left both libraries alone."

And that actually could work pretty well. We'll have to write UT Austin.

"I also can't really think of a reason to build a books-only library. Even a collection of historical books, or an archival collection, should include online finding aids. Of course information is found in books. But there are many reasons to provide access to the Internet and databases as well. To name two: reliable online sources give breaking news on a topic; and if someone's checked a book out, it's inaccessible until (and if) returned, whereas online/database information can be shared among several users."

Okay, I can see that.

I guess my issue is that I'm sort of surrounded by the effects of living in a post-literate culture. Students generally can read, but they don't really understand what they read, don't really read at all, and don't like to read. They will read the internet, but even there, most sites they read are grammatically suspect, simplistic in thought, and tend towards inaccurate information. So, we don't like to assign the internet. The problem I think is that there are plenty of profs who say: "Why should they have to read if they don't want to. Just assign them a movie on DVD!" and plenty of us who say: "It's not our job to encourage the formation of an idiot culture." So, I guess the real question for both academics and librarians is where do we draw the line between living in the modern era and remaining a bullwark against its particular flaws.

"You ask why librarians would be supportive of this trend. If you mean the trend to build bookless libraries, I'd say most librarians -- and certainly all the ones I know -- would be dead set against it, as am I."



daisy said...

I hear you on kids not understanding what they're reading and on not being able to identify what's a reliable source and what isn't. I'd like to think that University of Texas is trying to solve that very problem with their new library-esque lab. It sounds like research and writing help is the focus there.

We get kids at my (public) library all the time that cut and paste information from a Web page -- any Web page -- directly into a Word document and turn that in as a paper. The saddest part is that this seems to be acceptable; the kids are totally open about it, to the point of asking me how to cut and paste, and I'm afraid this means the teachers don't mind. Yesterday I saw a sheet of paper a teacher had distributed with assignment guidelines, and they included the words, "Write in your own words. Don't copy and paste from a Web site." I mean, the teacher has the right idea, but I can't imagine that not being a given.

As for "assigning the Internet," a lot of times, that's just the delivery medium. Services like Ebsco and InfoTrac provide search interfaces for all kinds of academic articles. And if there's only one print copy of the June 2001 Signs at UTA, but 30 kids have to read an article from it for a critical theory class, then either the professor can Xerox thirty copies of it and make the kids buy it from a copy shop, or they can all log in from the library or their home computers and read it for free.

You say, The problem I think is that there are plenty of profs who say: "Why should they have to read if they don't want to. Just assign them a movie on DVD!"

I'm not sure that's true. You would know better than I, because you're currently affiliated with a university, but to me this sounds like something you wrote about in a previous post: how some people seem to believe that students are constantly being indoctrinated with leftist professors' points of view. You said that while everyone says that, it wasn't something you'd ever encountered in your many years at different universities. I agree with you one hundred percent on that. Hell, I was an undergrad and a grad student in women's studies and I STILL was never proselytized at (proselytized to? which is it). So it sounds to me like the kind of thing we fear happens, but doesn't actually. Again, though, I can't say for sure.

I like being Divine, incidentally.

daisy said...

Oh, also I think that kids should be properly taught how to use the library and how to evaluate a Web site by high school at the very latest. At the college level, it should be a requirement that all freshmen take a basic research class. We require introductory writing classes; research is closely related. The course would teach how to find, choose, summarize, and cite research material.

Of course -- and this is a bit of a tangent -- this class, like ALL required classes, should be waived for a given student that demonstrates proficiency coming in. Nothing is more soul-sucking than having to sit through some bullshit you already know, dragged down to the level of your alleged peers, being condescended to on a topic at which you're an expert, when you could be taking something interesting.

Rufus said...

Yeah, we get a few cut-n-paste papers. Usually, we google the first line of the paper to see if it's on the net. If it is plagarized, the punishment is up to us. My policy is to staple the two together, give them a zero for the paper, and turn it over to the professor. Luckily, my prof is pretty tough about it.
At W&M, we had no leeway. One plagarized paper and you were expelled. But, it's definitely not that way at most places.
No, I'm sure my DVD comment was just hyperbole. But, we really do have profs whose main goal in life is to make the students happy. Most of us think they're lame. Actually, one prof here really does show a lot of DVDs and gives these corny dramatic speeches.
"This is a candle... Now, imagine if you were in the 17th century and this was your light. Now (blowing) it's dark...."
But, yeah I was exaggerating a bit. Actually, I had been brainwashed by Noam Chomsky into posting that.

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