Information and the Future

This is the blog of the Information and the Future task force of the Rolfing Library at Trinity International University. The IF task force exists to explore the role of libraries in the future of Christian higher education.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The shushing librarian

I just read Academic Libraries: "Social" or "Communal" by Jeffrey Gayton that is cited below.

Gayton is not pleased with the trend (he might prefer fad) of positioning libraries as academic commons. He helpfully reminds us that serious, silent study may still be social and may benefit from being done in a public space. He fears that cafes and conversations in libraries may ruin the library as a setting for deep contemplation leaving little alternative for people who study best away from the distractions and noise so prevalent on campuses. He attempts to support this argument by appealing to statistics that suggest this quiet atmosphere is why people come to the library and that yes people still go to libraries.

I was not convinced by his statistical case nor completely convinced that we have a real dichotomy here between social and communal. But found the article helpful for pointing out the connection between pedagogy and library service. Is knowledge socially constructed by communities actively engaged in dialog with peers? Or knowledge earned by carefully and attentively sitting at the feet of our intellectual ancestors? I don't feel prepared to give an intelligent answer to these questions, but our answers (conscious or not) do impact how we position our libraries.

While Gayton feels that libraries are not the endangered species they are sometimes portrayed. I wonder if his serious, silent, scholars are the real endangered species. Some studies seem to suggest they are. The struggle of many in our culture to engage with material in a patient and thorough way seems to strike at issues more profound then the place of libraries. I think many of us would like to see libraries' fate be separate from the fate of that type of scholarship not because we don't value it but because we find it a very uncertain foundation.

Perhaps we should make resisting the snack culture our top priority, Gayton thinks we'll be rewarded for it, or maybe we hedge our bets by selling snacks in the library.


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