Monday, February 6, 2012

The "L-word"

Now, I don't think it's going to be any of the words most people are expecting...the L-word for today is "library".

I'm on the local faculty senate. We meet a couple of weeks before the faculty meeting to set the agenda; elections are coming up, so there will be a faculty meeting in February. I'm next-to-last on the agenda because alphabetically, that's where our unit falls...right behind the Humanities, Fine Arts, and Social Sciences division, abbreviated as "HFASS". Pronounce that quietly to yourselves.

We representatives get dinged about once a year by those whom we serve with the admonition that 'you are not filters', i.e., read our complaints verbatim. Don't interpret- let them fly, regardless. In case you're wondering, I've been consigned to this gulag for eleven and a half years. I am the silverback, and I have an excellent memory. The same five things are destined to return, like the swallows to Capistrano, every single freaking year. I have a hit list of things about which I don't want to hear, parking and smoking being at the very top.

The reports were going fine of the HFASS reps prefaced his division's concerns by warning me that he was not a filter- translation: this is going to be a hit on the Learning Commons, as indeed it was.

Long story short, it was a florid, overblown work of passive-aggressive prosidy that mentioned not only the Great Library of Alexandria, it called upon the imagery of the Bodleian and the other great academic libraries of yore- and went on to imply that we had somehow damaged the academic integrity of the institution by changing the name of our functional unit to Learning Commons. We were accused of embracing fads, simple trendiness, and that they, the faculty, should've been asked permission before we thus damaged the college's reputation by dropping the term 'library'.

My initial response is unprintable. My official response began with, "First of all, the building in which we are housed is called a learning resource center, which embraces a fad current in about 1960. The library was a functional unit housed in the learning resource center. The library is a smaller functional unit within the Learning Commons, and may I also reinforce that libraries are not and have not been, for a great many years, about dusty tomes on the shelves. Furthermore, let me point out that in getting our minds around this evolution, that the University of Kentucky has a Learning Commons housed in the building called the W.T. Young Library; also, the Johns Hopkins University went completely virtual with its medical libraries this year, i.e., no books on the shelves, and Harvard just fired its entire library staff to break their union. The word "library" no longer means what it once did. Schools which train librarians are also dropping the word library, as Michigan did a number of years ago- it is now the School of Information Studies. The name change predates Margo (my current boss), but feel free to take the issue up with her- it occurred, however, during Shelley's time (my previous boss). There are still library people doing library things, but we are only one small unit within the Learning Commons, which includes tutoring and IT, and eventually other things if Bruce (my dean) keeps going."

I was a little. bit. pissed. After all, it took them THREE years to figure it out and I don't appreciate the patronizing overture that led into the actual statement. I'm the one with two history degrees and archival training, so if you don't think I'm extraordinarily conversant about the Alexandrian library or any other historical library and its contents, think twice (I have viewed the Domesday BookMagna Carta and the Lindisfarne Gospel for the experience of assessing their relative condition). When they tried to defuse me with a joke about papyrus, I deadpanned, "Papyrus is an excellent storage medium in drier climates, however, we have a humdity problem in our building. The scrolls would separate from the damp." Don't screw with me, kids, I'm a repressed archivist and I will beat you to death with my arcane knowledge of preservation...

At the end of the day, it's semantics, and the charge that we have damaged the reputation or credibility of the school is ludicrous. By the way, it's a community college...I wasn't aware that we had such an august academic reputation to damage-and it puts me in mind of my father's favorite shaggy dog story:

A young man from Kentucky was admitted to Harvard. One day as he's strolling across the Quad, he asks a fellow student, "Where's the library at?" The other student replies frostily, "My good fellow, at Harvard we don't end our sentences with prepositions," to which the Kentuckian responds, "Oh, sorry. Where's the library at, a$$h***?"

I'll tell you where it is- part of the Learning Commons, inside the Learning Resource Center...a$$h***.

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