The Loon loves a good chewy chunk of systems analysis, and there’s a marvelous one happening at Jenica Rogers’s blog, the “Killing Fear” series:
(This post will be updated with further links as posts in the Killing Fear series continue to appear.)
The Loon couldn’t supplant Rogers’s analysis if she tried—Rogers is herself a library administrator; the Loon is but a lowly library-school instructor—but the Loon does have random nuts and bolts rattling around in the back of her head that fit into the picture Rogers is painting. So she’ll share one or two, because after a while, the rattling hurts.
One aspect of faculty’s caterpillary desires that irks the life out of the Loon is “library as book museum.” This rhetoric turns up like a bad penny every time a library discusses weeding or offsite storage:
- Jenica Rogers herself has had to deal with it.
- So has the New York Public Library.
- So has Syracuse University.
- Rick Lugg threads his way through the trap-studded labyrinth with as much grace as possible.
Librarians can recite the weary faculty litanies from memory. But we won’t be able to browse! (Your illusion that all knowledge is contained on the library’s physical shelves is just that, as is your illusion that classification is the only route to serendipity.) You’re throwing books away! (Yes. Next?) But it’ll be inconvenient for researchers! (Less than would be obsolescence-choked shelves with no room for anything new.) But no one will use the library or its books any more! (Check your facts. Stats say otherwise, quite loudly.) But digital materials all die! (How dare you, you insulting know-nothing. The Loon teaches digital preservation. She is roundly offended at this routine untruth.)
As you can see, the Loon has considerably less patience with this nonsense than Rick Lugg—and thank goodness for him; no one would want the Loon talking to faculty about this! The above objections, uninformed and worrisome as they are, are not the Loon’s chief concern, though. This objection is:
But atmosphere! The air of erudition! Wandering the shelves in search of wisdom!
The library is not a book museum.
The library is not a book museum.
THE LIBRARY IS NOT A BOOK MUSEUM.
The library is not a book museum!
Once libraries succumb to frank nostalgia, they are finished. Done. History. We librarians must resist the book-museum narrative if the library is to survive as what Ranganathan would call a “growing organism.” (The Loon will return to Ranganathan shortly. Savvy librarians will already know how.)
Even special collections, which comes as close to an intentional book museum as anything libraries have, knows better than to embrace this narrative uncritically, as recent mostly-Twitter squabbles over assessment and metrics for special-collections–development indicate.
The book-museum narrative has several unlucky corollaries. One, of course, is the very caterpillar-like unchangeability that Rogers remarks on. Another is collection distortion away from what is most useful toward what is most revered by a vocal minority. (The Loon is of the opinion that every book must defend its inclusion in a library every day of its shelflife—and mere reverence is not an adequate defense.) A third, paradoxically, is the continued devaluation of print books and the libraries that hold them as viable information sources: if what is on the shelves is perennially outdated, kept for the sake of “atmosphere” and “reverence,” what sane information-seeker will bother with those shelves?
(Hush, history-of-science folks. Please understand that you are an edge case. Libraries can’t and shouldn’t turn themselves into book museums just for you.)
Fortunately, we librarians have a counter to this narrative, a counter with enough antiquity, elegance, and profundity that even the die-hardiest faculty book-museumite cannot easily overcome it. It’s Ranganathan’s First Law, of course, and if it takes every librarian in America tattooing the First Law on his or her forehead to destroy the book-museum meme, the Loon will be first in line at the inker’s.
Books are for use.
Resisting the book museum by Library Loon, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.