Sometimes when I teach first year students how to use a book (the table of contents and index are the “google of the book” telling you what’s inside and where to find what you want) I get shocked looks from profs. In fact, last week one prof argued gently with me that I was surely mistaken that this kind of thing was news to our first year students. Surely they know how books work, how periodicals work, or that encyclopedias are often ordered alphabetically.
Well, thank goodness for Barbara Fister who just started compiling a list of just these kinds of things, where we have a tacit understanding of how information works but our students do not. Everything on her list resonates strongly with me and my experience of first and second year students.
Go read it! Tacit Knowledge and the Student Researcher
It’s kind of a common joke among librarians: “Our jobs would be so much easier without the patrons.” It’s the kind of thing we say in a moment of frustration that both allows us to vent and also reminds us why we’re here in the first place. We would never lock our doors to keep the patrons out — to “protect” our collections and our time.
Apparently the library director at the Urbana Free Library, Deb Lissak, decided that her staff’s jobs would be so much easier if there weren’t any books. And rather than sigh and get on with life’s little frustrations, she actually acted on the impulse. In the space of a few hours, and without the knowledge of the librarian in charge of the collection, she had 12 new staff weed 50-70% of the adult non-fiction collection using publication date as her only criteria. Looking for a non-fiction book published before 2003? You won’t find it at the Urbana Free Library.
Of course, thoughtful weeding is a vital part of maintaining a useful collection. This, however, does not resemble thoughtful reading in the slightest. This resembles a daycare dumping basins of bathwater without checking for people’s babies first.
Somehow, of all the appalling aspects of this story, her stated reasoning is what gets me the most.
[It] has to do with RFID [tagging]. We have to touch every single piece in the collection and have to tag it… And you don’t want to be doing all that and then find you’re — six months from now — you’re weeding and taking things back out you just went to the trouble of doing this for. (Quoted here)
There you have it: proactive weeding. We might find we want to weed it later, so we’ll just weed it now instead. The ultimate in efficiency.
Meanwhile, the library is telling its patrons not to worry, that this will make browsing easier. It’s so much more efficient to browse 10 books compared to 50 books. You’ll love it!
Libraries sure can be more efficient without those pesky collections.