A reply to ‘Glamourised study halls do not need an army of librarians’ by Jeffery Beall
For a librarian, the internet is an absolutist trove of knowledge, rubbish and value simultaneously. Twitter itself has a fantastic community of librarians which I take great value from, including opinions that do not match my own.
One opinion, for example, was an essay that Jeffery Beall wrote on February 7th 2019 titled:
“Glamourised study halls do not need an army of librarians:
The rise of electronic publishing has left many academic librarians underemployed and overpaid —”
The essay (moreof a rant) talks about the role of librarians in modern academia and I fear that he rather misses the mark about what academic librarians actually do. I can’t comment on the state of universities in the US as I am UK based and rather than expanding, we seem to suffer regularly at the hands of funding cuts and restructures; but there are some international parallels that are synonymous with information professionals internationally. The tone throughout is embittered and, I am sorry Mr Beall but you are clearly wedged firmly in the past. Although the author is known for his Beall’s List, I take the more general perspective of an academic librarian who is not involved with research.
I felt I needed to reply because one sentence above all else in this essay gave something away to me. That this chap really has no grasp about the modern academic librarian and our role within education.
“But the internet has diminished the value of academic librarianship.”
No, Jeffrey, the internet hasn’t diminished our role, in fact, it has made it more vital and indispensable to the modern student.
Libraries are not glamourised study halls, but evidence that learning and studying habits have changed. Gone are the days of stuffy formal libraries being stuffy and formal, to spaces that are much more relaxed, welcoming social interaction as part of the learning process. To me, a modern academic library goes beyond just being a place to work.
What is more surprising about this essay is that the author was himself an academic librarian, but I fear he might might be stuck in the past. So here is a small portion about what I do and why our, as the author puts it, ‘bloated and hypocritical profession’ hasn’t lost its way.
First off — I don’t think the author has heard of Information Literacy.
One thing he seems to forget throughout this essay is the role of information literacy. It is our guiding principle and one of our main key reasons for existence.
With the rise and rise of Fake News and the increasing need for students to be able to sift through the vast amount of informational rubbish, helping students hone and develop their critical thinking skills is incredibly important. A Stanford study in 2016 found that students ability to tell the difference between real news and fake news was significantly lacking, it is evidence like this that justifies the need information literacy programs.
Creating Information Literate human beings who can leave university or school, and know how to conduct research and that there are different levels of quality to information they find is an achievement in itself, but for them to also know high-quality information is likely to be found in one of our databases is even better.
And, I would take umbrage at the fact that online databases are ‘largely unused supplanted by Google’. True, students Google things, but it is the role of this army of librarians to educate them to know when to use our databases and how to get the best out of them.
My role varies between teaching sessions on the benefits of LinkedIn, How to spot Fake News, Referencing and Plagiarism, how to search on the internet and even Digital Safety.
My role is replicated by other institutions around the world in various formats, because strangely enough, the role of ‘librarian’ is a constantly evolving one. Where there is information of any sort, an academic librarian is bringing up the rear armed with common sense, metadata and the foresight to know that we don’t know everything, but we know where to look for it.
Oh…and there is Collection Management too
Jeffery alludes to this by saying that the only librarians that matter is the
“…those who pay the invoices for the proprietary online research databases, and those who ensure that they are not offline.”
So yes, don’t get me wrong. This part of the job is important, but no-where has he mentioned anything about actual printed books. Printed book sales are on the rise with an extra 627,000 printed books being bought in the UK last year alone says The Bookseller and there are many academic books that are not produced in eBook format. And eBooks, with their inflated prices and weird access rights, are nonetheless equally important.
Us librarians are the ones who liaise with academic faculties and agree which books are to be bought — it is us who have to hunt for certain books and decide whether or not current stock are current or up-to-date and therefore in need of weeding.
We are part of the administrative machine behind the function of the library management system, in fact we are behind any other management system that a library might operate, and the cogs in the wheel that help orientate the students who first step through our doors at the beginning of their academic experience.
For many students we are a safe space, somewhere friendly and warm that they can study. Because studying isn’t always done individually, it’s done in groups too, it’s done whilst eating lunch and it’s done on beanbags. Yes, my library has beanbags.
Some of us are first aiders, others of us have IT support experience and can answer questions about Microsoft Office products, others are subject specialists and can tell students how to change formatting on Word, how to create a graph in Excel or even help solve problems beyond software.
The picture that Jeffery Beall paints of the world of academic librarians pines for a world long gone. And as as Sarek said to Michael Burnham in Season 1 of Star Trek Discovery ‘Change is the only constant force in the universe’ which is applicable to our sector. It is just a shame that the author of this essay clearly has an issue with the new landscape.
I was chuffed to bits to see that the Times Higher Ed had published Dr Beth Montague-Hellen’s very lucid response to the article today, so I do urge you to go and have a look.