Defending the university library

Whatever challenges we may face in this part of the world, we are unlikely – or so we hope – to experience the destruction of our libraries through book burnings. However, not everyone in the world can be see confident: throughout the second half of 2014 the jihadists of Islamic State, who had captured the Northern Iraq city of Mosul, have been burning all non-Islamic books in the local university libraries. And before we get to feel superior, we must of course remember that in the 20th century this happened in Europe also. And even more recently in America, though admittedly for different reasons: in Missouri a university librarian destroyed 188,000 books because he felt they were moldy and damp.

Libraries face all sorts of challenges: they can be the first to feel the impact of budget cuts, they can experience the uncertainty some university leaders feel about whether traditional library materials are still needed or a good investment, or they can get into the news for the wrong reasons, as some students are found doing things there they shouldn’t be.

In a world in which learning methods and indeed learning habits are changing rapidly, in which demographic trends are changing many of our former assumptions, in which electronic materials are replacing hard copies, it may be difficult to develop and promote sustainable library models. But it seems clear to me that we must do so, because in the end the library is, more than anything else, the key symbol of the academy – where the source of knowledge is contained and its analysis facilitated. No matter what happens to the technology, libraries will become neither less relevant nor, it has to be said, less expensive. Universities need to ensure that they survive and prosper, not just on electronic servers, but as places in which scholars can be scholars.

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7 Comments on “Defending the university library”

  1. Ian Says:

    The starting point is having a robust policy for the acquisition and retention of books, journals, and othrr media. Does your university have one – one to which the academic community is committed?

  2. Vincent Says:

    I’d say most people don’t think of the library or it’s workings from one end of the year to the other. It’s just there.
    My tuppenceworth from missing the place when doing on-line courses would be the EU become an umbrella under which the uni’s would publish for free and with the usual protections all papers now sent to the journals. That shower are just taking the piss. For while they might have a thin excuse in the US where many research institutions are private there’s none what-so-ever in Europe where the Uni’s exist on the cash inputs from the citizenry. It’s surely nuts for an institution to pay three times for the same paper.

  3. anna notaro Says:

    “the library is, more than anything else, the key symbol of the academy”
    Or maybe of what the academy *was*, as one evinces from browsing the British Library shop which includes merchandising like Library scented candles and that must have item, the library card socks!

  4. Good points, but Neil Gaiman, the author made a far more impassioned and persuasive argument for my money about libraries in general:

  5. cormac Says:

    I guess movements like ISIS understand the importance of books better than most – that’s why they take the time to destroy them. Hitler certainly understood the power of books, especially his own!

  6. Elizabeth Spencer Says:

    ‘A place in which scholars can be scholars’ -I love that sentence and it summarises how I feel about it too. I understand the need for protecting libraries. It is the Mecca for book lovers. It is the place where you get to see likeminded scholars researching about their subjects. In a university, library is the place a student gets to feel motivated to do research. It is a place to let your thoughts wander in silence along with the others who visit it collectively without interaction- it sends out that intelligent vibe one needs to feel inspired. If we lose our libraries and the physical manifestation of it in books or electronic kindles with subjects on it, we kind of lose a part of our scholarly culture.

    I personally love reading a book, it is a novelty and I still visit central libraries of towns I visit. But it is disappointing to note that these days in the name of budget cuts, we are cutting library resources to save money, and it is reflected in the Aberdeenshire libraries of Scotland I have visited so far. Internet has a lot of unedited information and sometimes very misleading, published journals make it easier to trust the author and their content.

    Also, I have always experienced that a university library with books and journals for reference gave me a direction that which I could not get out of browsing for free information online. There is too much chaos in too much information, a book is like a road sign helping a student to navigate through the numerous roadways to reach the destination.

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