JSTOR withdrawals igloo

July 14, 2010 at 3:29 pm 3 comments

Tutt Library is in the process of discarding bound journals now available in JSTOR and backed up electronically and in hard copy in multiple locations in the state and the country. Last night, somebody — or more likely somebodies (students? we don’t know) pulled hundreds of them out of the dumpster and built an igloo-like structure in the parking lot.

It’s beautiful, I think, and a fitting monument to progress and the future and all that stuff. It’s sad, too, and in the few minutes I stood near the igloo I heard wistful comments from passers-by, even some anger or disappointment that the library would throw these things away. I found myself defending the library’s decision, but feeling a mixture of emotions as I did so. Frustration at how bad we are at explaining ourselves, love and affection for the people who feel love and affection for these materials. A feeling of helplessness.

Why do people assume that libraries and librarians hate books (or bound journals) and can’t wait to get rid of them? We went into this field because we love books, most of us. But we have to care more about the students and researchers who use our libraries, and we have to try to do what’s best for them. For a long time that meant taking flimsy journals and magazines and binding them, making them into solid book-like objects that would last a long time. Now it’s a new paradigm, and we’re making the texts in those journals available via the internet. We don’t like throwing out the bound journals, but we have to make room for other things in the library. We receive something like 6000 new books a year. The library building isn’t getting any bigger, but our collections are growing and growing …

Ah, I’m doing it again. I’m defending our decision — which I should do, as a librarian. But let’s talk about the shenanigan. It’s a well-built piece of art, and does just what art should do. It moves us, surprises us, makes us see things in a new way for a moment. And makes us see other things besides itself in a new way for a while.

Whoever has to put all the journals back in the dumpster probably won’t appreciate it, though. And I hope it doesn’t rain.

Addendum, Thursday, July 15: I should make clear that the bound journals get recycled. And I can report that the library staff worked together on Wednesday to get the volumes back into the dumpster before the rain hit.

Further addendum, November 2: One of the culprits/artists who involved tells me that a CC student and two alumni built the “crater/kiva/igloo” in about three hours, completing the project just before dawn. The student remarks: “I apologize if the book-toss was more work than it was worth. I fully understand the practical reasons for tossing the books, as well as the aesthetic, tactile, and conceptual beauty of ‘the book’ (both in the platonic sense and as physical/individual objects). Very rarely is one presented the opportunity to work with such a quantity of anything, let alone a medium as interesting and iconic.”

Entry filed under: academic libraries, art, perpetrated by students or patrons, Tutt Library Colorado College.

Bookshelf apartment at the Victoria & Albert Museum I’m Handsome. You’re Pretty.

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. neil gordon  |  July 16, 2010 at 11:47 pm

    Hitler burnt books, now YOU Throw them out.!This is an ANONYMOUS way of “burning” books!!!!Books can be re-read,re-used by artists ,etc,you can always find a home or purpose for a book .Shame on you! If this is progress,then what happens when the electronic grid goes out and you dont have acces to jstor???Im not a total luddite but this is happening in librarys and schools every day.Is Ray Bradberry a Prophet??

    Reply
  • 2. jessyrandall  |  July 20, 2010 at 4:28 pm

    Well, one difference between HItler and Tutt Library is that we’re increasing access to the materials instead of decreasing access. (There may be other differences, too, to put it mildly.) Now anyone in the library and anyone with a CC login anywhere in the world has access to those materials, whereas it used to be that only people in the library could read them.

    I’m happy, also, to tell you that if we lose access to JSTOR we have multiple backups to all the JSTOR journals, both digital and paper. Even if we lost the electronic grid, we have hard copy backups within the state — though my guess is that in the case of the world going dark, access to academic journals will be a low priority.

    We really do try to find alternatives to discarding materials. As I say in the third paragraph of the blog post, discarding hard copies is upsetting to us, too. It’s even more upsetting to think that someone — you — would compare us to Ray Bradbury’s firemen in Fahrenheit 451.

    Some libraries try to discard their materials quietly and secretly, to avoid this sort of thing. I’m glad that our library director didn’t ask the staff not to discuss the process, even if it does hold a great deal of emotion for the community and for us.

    Reply
  • 3. Judith Koveleskie  |  July 17, 2015 at 9:08 am

    Oh come on, Neil, there isn’t a library in the world that doesn’t weed. Sometimes books become obsolete, particularly in the sciences and when we did our last big weed, that I told people was this, “If the material in a book is obsolete, inaccurate, or misleading and you would not want a student to use it, it is not a book anymore – it’s simply a dead tree.” At my library, we offered our books to anyone who wanted them. We also sent what we could to Better World Books. But in the end sometime the dumpster is the only way to dispose of them.

    Reply

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