Thursday, February 09, 2023

Latest in the "let's kill all the libraries" movement: newly-formed Vermont State University

Quick midday post: the newly consolidated Vermont State, the latest college to kill the libraries, is really, really committed to it:

Administrators announced Tuesday afternoon that the system’s member schools — Castleton University, Northern Vermont University and Vermont Technical College — will shuffle their athletics programs and transition its five campus libraries to an “all-digital” model. 

The library shift is set to take place by July 1, and will eliminate seven full-time positions and three part-time ones, according to Parwinder Grewal, the inaugural president of Vermont State University. ...

As part of those changes, campus libraries will shift online, meaning students will only be able to access books, academic journals and other materials online. Most of the physical books and other materials will be donated and administrators plan to “repurpose” the spaces. 

We're not talking about your basic Starbucks Memorial Library here, knocking out a few obsolete science journals to make room for the ever-essential coffee machines and treadmills.

All the books will be gone. 

I kind of get it. My students don't seem to go to the library much, except when I take them on a tour or make an assignment requiring it. 

But the no-books model has some issues.

1. How could you not like to go to the library and work with real copies of, say, The Illustrated London News or Harper's Weekly in big oversized bindings, especially when your campus may or may not have access to the increasingly-behind-paywalls digitized versions? Learning is so 2-D in a digitized world: we look at screens all day, every day. It's kind of exciting, as my students tell me every semester, to go and look at the actual materials. 

2. And given that budget cuts happen every single year in a university, and library budgets are especially prone to being given the axe--happens at Northern Clime every year--what happens when students don't have access to a particular paywalled resource?

3. What happens if you're working with a historical text (a novel, say, from Google Books or HathiTrust) where part is missing, blurred, or otherwise inaccessible

4. In a broader sense, won't this lead to more of a haves vs. have-nots situation, with this being one more place where resources are removed for the have-nots but kept for well-funded universities? 

Maybe this is all an irrational fear on my part. I guess it's reminding me of an exam I had to grade one time for an independent study student (not my student). The exam hit the basics but did not go one word, one thought, or one sentence beyond what was absolutely required. Did it pass? Yes. But it was like a ChatGPT essay: grammatically correct and without insight, a perfect C. 

Somehow I think that a curious student + a library with books has a better shot at a different perspective, which may be a romantic illusion.

Your thoughts? 

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