Today’s article in Slate is all about the new trend in college libraries of removing the biblia and turning them into Jamba Juices. The article was inspired by a group of activists from Colby College, who are protesting their administration’s decision to sack the stacks in favor of–big surprise–opulent offices for, you guessed it, administrators. So fitting.
Anyway, this was an interesting article to write, because I had to come up with an argument to keep books that would be unassailable even to the most virulent anti-print crowd. Anything about the actual research value of books was going to be shot down by people who pointed out that eventually, digitized books will be as good as the real thing, for all intents and purposes. Anything about browsing the stacks was going to be shot down by people who pointed out that many books happened upon whilst browsing are probably outdated and won’t help research. Any argument about the historical importance of interacting with print was going to be shot down by people who argued that what I’m thus basically advocating is a “book museum.” It was going to be tough going, until I realized that no matter what, books do have a place in the library. You can have every other important thing in a library–study space, computers, a librarian–and get most, if not all, of the materials you need to research and study. But without the books, you will not feel like studying. Really, you won’t. So that’s my argument.
While I was writing the piece, I reached out to several librarians I know, both to get links and to test out my arguments. They didn’t necessarily agree, but they gave me their blessing anyway. It hasn’t made much of a difference, however–plenty are still really pissed, for one reason or another. You know, the usual–my argument wasn’t 1000% exactly what they would say, ergo I’m an idiot. However, I’m still glad I exercised due diligence this time. The last time I wrote about a field I don’t now anything about was the Essay Essay, which, because I didn’t talk to anyone in comp/rhet during writing, ignited such a shit-storm that to this day many of the comp/rhet celebrities in the US (contradiction in terms, I realize) hate my fucking guts.
Lately I’ve been trying to be less confrontational and more compassionate. When someone disagrees with me, either politely or vehemently, I am really trying my goddamndest to see things from their perspective, to value their feelings as much as my own, to understand that no matter how “right” I feel I am, it’s still only a feeling, and not an unassailable fact.
I am a weird person, in that I am equal parts passionately opinionated and unashamedly beta (that is, I spend a lot of my time cowering in fear about being criticized, and internalizing others’ criticisms because I already at least halfway believe them to be true.) So in order to reconcile this contradiction called my existence, I am doing WAY more compassionate reflection and way less fighting. For those of you entertained by my fighting, I guess I’m “sorry”? Actually, I’m really sorry, please forgive me, please don’t hate me, please be nice to me, please.
Double-anyway, all this is to say that in writing this piece, I really did do my level best to do right by librarians, but in the end, I also had to make an argument that could even begin to resonate with the people who are in charge of obliterating college libraries in the first place.