Why aren’t you at the library?

  At the beginning of this term, there was considerable outcry over the cuts to the library budget, which had eliminated evening and Sunday hours. After the ups and downs of the first few weeks, money was finally appropriated from somewhere else to hire another research librarian. An incredibly quick hiring process ensued, and we now have another part-time, degree holding employee. The library extended its hours into the evening and again opened on Sundays, traditionally a busy day at the Antioch College library.

Given the amount of concern vocalized by students over the lack of evening and weekend hours, people writing their senior projects this fall and the infamous Research Methods being taught, one would assume the library is brimming at night.

And yet, at seven o’clock on Tuesday, there are a grand total of six people in the library. Two of them are librarians, and one of them is me, the work-study library clerk. Every one of the three people who aren’t being paid to be here is working on a computer. By eight o’clock, two people have come in for a Research Methods reserve reading, and two more people have come to use a computer.

This particularly scene is not uncommon. Every evening but Sunday is a virtual graveyard, and most of the people who do come in are here to use a computer. There’s nothing wrong with coming to the library to use a computer, but that function could be provided by a computer lab. We don’t need thousands of books, hundreds of bound periodicals, microfilm, three reference librarians and OhioLink if the only thing students need to do is check their email. There is a core group of people that are here practically every day, but it’s no more than ten people.

It’s possible that this is simply a reflection of the ascendancy of the Internet as a research tool. Certainly many fine sources of information are available online, and some are even available for free. Many libraries have gone so far as to start digitizing their collections, although these generally are only available to members of that particular library system.

Considering, though, that Antioch does not subscribe to JSTOR, Lexis-Nexis, or similar services, anyone doing all of their research online, from their dorm room, doesn’t have access to very good sources. No matter what you’re studying, if you’re doing exclusively online research, you’re doing bad research. The Internet has its own systemic biases, just like any other information system, and the easiest way to compensate for those biases is to get into a library.

Perhaps you’re thinking that the Olive Kettering Library doesn’t have that much to offer. Some elementary school libraries have more square footage, and most college libraries are in nicer buildings, with newer computers. You may also wonder why the library needs to open late, when all you do is check reserve readings out and then bring them back. Or maybe you, like many of our patrons, think the library is just plain creepy. Especially the basement.

Contrary to popular belief, the library does have quite a bit to offer. It’s true that it doesn’t always have the popular stuff, but where the Olive lacks in quantity it makes up for in quality. The library has amazing periodicals, covering an enormous and sometimes ridiculous set of topics and including some rare gems you quite literally won’t find anywhere else. We have dozens of journals on physics alone, and I have photocopied more thirty-year old articles from mechanical engineering volumes than I could ever want to. Practically every magazine we have ever subscribed to was collected, bound and put in the basement for future scholars.

In the bound periodicals section, you can find the entire press run of Z Magazine, the lefty political and cultural journal. Okay, maybe that’s not so impressive, considering much of their archive is online for free. But we also have every issue of Sewanee Review, a prominent literary magazine, from their first printing in 1892 to the latest issue. The library has also subscribed to magazines that turned out to be less long lived than Sewanee, like Plain Talk, an anti-Communist political journal that only published from 1946 to 1950. Or you could thumb through the official League of Nations journal if you’re interested in how the precursor to the United Nations did business, and perhaps how they turned into the United Nations.

The Internet can’t provide the information gathering skills of a trained reference librarian. At the beginning of the term, and during the budget cuts of last term, there was a lot of talk about student volunteers to run the library. Obviously student employees are awesome, but we aren’t librarians and we just don’t have the same skills reference librarians have. Google doesn’t have these kinds of skills either.

Three of our five non-student employees have a Master’s in either library science or information science, which is the terminal degree in that field. Basically, they are incredibly skilled at what they do and certainly more skilled than us students, library clerks or no. We are here to check your books in and out and answer the phone. They are here to track down obscure publication statistics for a book or teach you the many layers of nuance in a search term.

An empty library reflects poorly on this school, no matter what time of day it is. I have seen touring families come into the library, walk around, marvel at the emptiness, and then come to the circulation desk and ask where everyone is. This should not be, not at a college that claims strong academics in spite of a small student body and even smaller budget. Not at a college that requires undergraduates to do original research, a task usually left until graduate school.

So what are you doing reading this? Why aren’t you at the library? If you’re scared of the basement, I’ll show you where all the light switches are.