Gavia Libraria

Library as what kind of place?

As many librarians do, the Loon keeps a casual (and sometimes not-so-casual) eye out for casual mentions of libraries, librarians, and librarianship in public discourses. She’s more or less over the stereotype-hunt; librarian stereotypes annoy her as much as anyone, but they are a constant in the landscape, so they don’t measure the real zeitgeist or changes therein.

Here’s one such mention, a teaser from the Chronicle of Higher Education’s front teaser-slider for an article about broader historian engagement:

Scholars need to spend less time in the library and more time confronting the rigorously critical world of the nonacademic public.

The Loon won’t link to the article quite yet. Let’s examine the rhetorical positioning of the library in that teaser first.

It seems clear to the Loon that the library of this teaser is a physical place; that’s how most historians of the Loon’s acquaintance who haven’t explicitly positioned themselves as digital humanists think of it. “Library as place” is well on its way to becoming established furniture in the librarian’s mental living room: third places, places of reverence, contemplative places, places of study, important places in the life of citizens and scholars.

That’s not the library-as-place of this teaser. Heavens no. The library of this teaser is a place where intellectual confrontation doesn’t happen, where scholars cravenly retreat from the public, where knowledge is written but never spoken, housed but never disputed or changed… perhaps even a place where scholars live in the past instead of the now—that’s not explicitly there, but it does seem implicit given the history frame.

Oof. That musty passionless retreat for wilfully oblivious time-loose cowards is not the academic library the Loon wants, disputatious and digital bird that she is. It shouldn’t even be the library that librarians who love library-as-place want. Academic libraries increasingly rely on humanists to defend library-as-place, since scientists deserted it long since. Would Tyler Rudd Putman defend it? Would his library want him to? The Loon shudders at the prospect.

Now go read the article, if you please (it’s not paywalled). Done? Good. Now please read the comments to this ACRLog post about makerspaces, in which the dominant theme is, “why would an academic library ever do this? no one makes things here.”

Perhaps someone should, indeed.

(The Loon trusts she doesn’t need to offer a disquisition on the genderedness and value judgments surrounding make versus think at this juncture. She appreciates a great deal that Mr. Putman had the confidence to write with pleasure and pride about making, outside the context of Arduino kits and 3D printers.)

At minimum, the Loon believes quite strongly that academic library-as-place advocates (even those not enamored of the makerspace concept) need to think a good bit harder about facilitating knowledge creation and disputation as well as knowledge preservation and consumption within library walls—and not just for undergraduates, either. If not, the next generation of humanities faculty will be full of Tyler Rudd Putmans, and academic-library-as-place will find itself in even worse jeopardy than it is presently.

2 thoughts on “Library as what kind of place?

  1. LibraryLoon Post author

    Incidentally, the Loon may have given a false impression above, that she herself is not enamored of makerspaces. She is! She likes the concept (and the executions thereof she has seen) very much!

  2. Barbara

    What an interesting notion – that the only thing made in libraries is things with which to furnish libraries’ shelves, none of which connect with the “real” world.

    I’m afraid a lot of undergraduates think that way, and we too often help them think of the library as contributor to their academic success, a tool which will have served its purpose once the diploma is in hand. (I want our students not to flunk out, but have higher hopes than that for them, but our own standards invite us to document how we contribute to the manufacture of graduates.) I know a lot of faculty think the purpose of research is to be published, and the library’s purpose is to help them become published so that … a very circular logic. So I suppose this attitude that libraries are not part of the “real world” in a meaningful way is not all that surprising, if depressing.

    And yet the Occupy movement that claimed public space (and got booted from it) thought a library was a natural part of being, however temporarily, a community.