It’s not only in American universities that libraries are being transformed from solitary spaces of scholarly study to swingin’ hip spots for socializing.
Thanks to the blog, Weekend Stubble, I read a post today entitled, “Kids These Days”. The title reminded me of the cranky post I wrote about libraries last week, when I actually found myself using the phrase, “These kids today . . .” so I read it. In his post, Paul Collins, the author of Weekend Stubble, linked to an article about the long lines of people waiting daily to gain entry to the British Library Reading Room. At first glance, I thought with relief, “At least in England, people are reading real books and are clamoring to see primary sources.”
Then I read the article Weekend Stubble mentions in its entirety and the comments following it.
The historian Tristram Hunt said that it was a scandal that it was impossible to get a seat after 11am when students were there. Many people travelling from outside London complain that they cannot get to the buidling any earlier. “Students come in to revise [papers] rather than to use the books,” he said. “It’s a ‘groovy place’ to meet for a frappuccino. It’s noisy and it’s undermining both the British Library’s function, as books take longer to get, and the scholarly atmosphere.”
Ashamedly, I admit that despite my passionate feelings about libraries and books, I have never been to the British Library — although I did visit the British Museum way back in 1990, when the British Library was housed there. Based on what I read in this article, I have a couple of different thoughts.
Should undergraduates get access to rare books? Of course they should, because if they never see them, how will they know about them? I, too, was deprived of the very idea of antiquarian books during my undergraduate years, even though I worked in my university’s library. That said, rare book reading rooms should be reserved for just what their name infers — reading. No internet surfing, no group projects, and no coffee. It seems to me that, in more than one library, books are de-emphasized in order to promote cafe culture, collaborative academic projects, and computers.
Those are just my two cents, for what it’s worth. I apologize for the excessive alliteration today. Sometimes I just can’t help myself.
See you in the stacks! (What’s that? You say you can’t find the stacks? They’re over there, behind the frappuccino counter.) 😉