Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Library Dean Carlson off to Texas A & M

[Update:  The Southern ran a story Friday on Carlson's move, and reports that he is disappointed that 2/3 of our books are still in McLafferty; Carlson is reported to say that failure is due to the lack of state funding for the sixth and seventh floors of the library.]

SIUC's Dean of Library Affairs, David Carlson, is moving on to Texas A & M, the DE reports.  Carlson's departure won't come as a surprise to those in the know (a group I am a marginal member of after having conversations with various librarians on the picket lines), as Carlson lost a major turf battle when Instructional Support Services was transferred to University College.  Now many of the offices housed in Morris are not run by the library; I suppose it is natural that after having overseen the renovation of Morris Carlson may have been irked to find that control over much of the building was given over to another unit. 

Carlson won an award as Illinois Academic Librarian of the Year in 2010, but will be best remembered, at least by this blogger, as the guy who emptied the library of books. Most of our collection remains in McLafferty, which I continue to consider outrageous; while it would have been expensive to return the books, the expense involved was a relative pittance in terms of the overall renovation of the library, and should have been made a major priority from the get go. The new Morris building is admittedly a vast improvement over the old one, and does provide a "campus center" to rival the student center. And of course digital resources are increasingly important, making texts less so. But texts still matter, even old ones, and by consigning them to exile in the vast shed on McLafferty Carlson sent the message to our students that books don't matter.


One way to access Carlson's view on what a library should mean comes in looking at his "welcome from the Dean" page on the Morris website. He begins, as does any self-respecting administrator, with a quotation--but one more revealing than most:
The library is not a shrine for the worship of books.  It is not a temple where literary incense must be burned or where one's devotion to the bound book is expressed in ritual.  A library, to modify the famous metaphor of Socrates, should be the delivery room for the birth of ideas—a place where history comes to life. —Norman Cousins
Carlson then goes on to describe the new Morris, listing its attributes in the following order:
  1. 15 group study rooms
  2. Delyte's cafe
  3. Collections, consisting of electronic databases, print volumes, and special collections (with no mention of the unfortunate fact that most print volumes are elsewhere)
With all due respect to Mr. Cousins, the primary place for idea midwifery is the classroom, not the library--or so I would have thought. At least in the Socratic sense, the birthing of ideas requires conversation. Now study rooms where students can nurture each others ideas are an excellent thing, as are more attractive spaces for students to study individually. But when I was a student,  studying at one desk or another burrowed away in my college library, I was continually inspired by the texts that surrounded me, and found myself browsing the stacks, whether looking for a specific text or not, for inspiration. A library should invite students to interact with texts by encouraging them to study around them--to make it clear to them that they are part of a conversation that includes the books & journals the library houses.

I suppose to put a positive gloss on things we should pose the question thus: What should SIUC be looking for in a new head of the library? What is the purpose of a library in this day and age?  I'll start the list (though I know that any attempt to channel comments will be futile).

A.  Someone who thinks that a library should, as a rather high priority, house texts.

25 comments:

  1. You presume that there will be a new head of the library.

    "University spokesperson Rod Sievers said Carlson did a great job at Morris Library and SIU wishes him the best as he advances his career. He said it was too early to say when or if a search will begin for a new dean."

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  2. A good observation. Are you suggesting that something big might be under way, that the library as a whole might be folded into the University College structure, for example? Or just that the dean's job might be left open, or with an interim, for a while?

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  3. I'm just pointing out the words "or if" that Rod Sievers included in his statement.

    If you listened long enough on the picket line, you would have heard lots of speculation about what the chancellor might have planned for the library. The two possibilities that you suggest aren't as scary as the scenarios a few librarians with a little imagination can envision.

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  4. Like the Outlaw Josey Wales in the souce novel written by a Klan sympathizer, Carlson will soon be "Gone to Texas". How coincidental since it is just before he was due to be evaluated. I've heard from a very reliable source that the books in McLafferty will NEVER be returned to Morris since there is not enough space and they knew it when they planned the new library. So don't be surprised if those books and journals are headed straight for the dumpster as was the fate of those rare books Carlson consigned similarly yeas ago.

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  5. All right, that’s enough. For crying out loud, people! Where did you get this idea that the library is the reason that the books aren’t back in the building yet? Can you find a member of the library faculty (including Carlson) who does not want them back? (Answer: you can’t.)

    Why is it that whenever something happens in the library that negatively impacts the disciplinary faculty on campus, it’s assumed that it’s something that the library wants to have happen? Case in point: journal cancellations. Do you think the library faculty like cancelling journals? (Answer: they don’t.) Here’s a suggestion for the future. If the library does something that upsets you, check to see if money (or lack thereof) is involved.

    This is going to come as a shock to some of you, but if you want to know why the books haven’t been returned, or why there are journal cancellations, you must turn your gaze in the direction of Anthony Hall. If the Chancellor provides the money, the library will bring those books back if they have to be carried by hand. If sufficient money is provided to cover the almost-criminal rise in journal subscription prices, then journals will not be cancelled. It really is that simple.

    It was never planned not to bring the books back. They had to leave the building, because it’s a little difficult to strip the building down to the girders if there are shelves of books on the floors. There was no place to put 2.7 million books on campus, so McLafferty Annex was built (out of renovation funds, as I understand it). The plan was always to bring those back as soon as was possible. They were to go into the basement (or lower level, if you prefer) on compact shelves. Those books used to take up floors 2-6, and they are volumes prior to 2002 (and journals older than 1996). It was always known that compact shelving would be necessary to make them all fit into the basement. That’s the bottom line. If you want ALL the books back, not just some of them, it’s got to be compact shelves. So, in a nutshell, here’s what you need to know: It’s never been about the movement of the books, it’s been about purchasing and installing the compact shelves.

    Here’s something else you need to know. A year or so ago, there was a desire on the part of the administration to put a math lab in Morris. Carlson had to fend off an idea by Jake Baggott that a quarter of the basement be given up for the construction of a lab down there. Carlson talked him out of it by pointing out that such a loss of space would mean that not all of the books in McLafferty would then fit into the basement. In the end, the library gave up one of its classrooms to make the math lab happen, thus preserving the basement for the books – all of them.

    One myth that surfaces in these comments is that the library was totally in charge of the renovation. For better or worse, it wasn’t. You’d have to ask Phil Gatton about some of these decisions. Another is that the money was never budgeted for the purchase of the compact shelves and transportation of the books. It was. Cost overruns took care of that, though. You can argue that the budgeting wasn’t well thought out. Perhaps; I don’t know. But no one foresaw Hurricane Katrina sending the cost of building materials through the roof, no pun intended. Besides the books and the basement, there also wasn’t enough money to finish the 6th and 7th floors, which doesn’t have nearly the impact, at the moment. Nobody seems to be getting worked up about that, though it will impact having space for new book acquisitions. That’s another $17 million, so I am told.

    Please direct all questions about the return of the books to Morris to the Chancellor, and ask her to find the money to do so. Amazing as it may seem, you will find that no one wants those books back in Morris more than the library faculty (once again, including Carlson).

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  6. Thanks for the informed comment. I know that Carlson wants the books back (he explained as much to me, in a patient email, when I wrote to him about this years ago); certainly I never wanted to imply that "the library faculty" didn't want the books back. The question is whether or not bringing the books back was given adequate priority by those in charge of budgeting--something you admit you're not quite sure about. The move to protect the basement for eventual housing of older books I hadn't heard of, and I'm glad to hear that the library fought to keep that space available for books.

    As readers of this blog will know, I'm happy enough to blame Anthony Hall for lots of stuff. And I'm sure that if Anthony Hall came up with the money, the books would come back. But here as elsewhere, we are all of us responsible for the decisions we make about priorities given the resources we manage to wrangle for our own units. Assuming Carlson had the authority to prioritize, he's responsible for spending what money was available for things other than returning the books.

    Let's assume that, as you say, returning the books was part of the original plan, but that rising costs made it impossible to bring them back (and let's further assume something you don't say--that there was nothing else that could practicably have been cut to allow for the return of the books). I'm obstinate enough to still carp. Is it unreasonable to expect the chief librarian to scream bloody murder if he can't have his books back? Or to blame him if he leaves it to others to do the screaming? Libraries do have purposes other than housing books, and the new Morris performs many of those functions admirably. But imagine, if you will, raising funds not for a brick patio but for bringing the books back--and paying for the shelves required. Yes, I'm sure the brick patio cost rather less than the funding needed for those shelves and transport of the books. And, yes, a library Dean who publicly led a charge to return books to the library might undercut celebration of the new facility. Perhaps only those in fields like classics are old-fashioned enough to care about such things, but at a campus that seems to prioritize appearances, amenities, and marketing over academic substance, the absence of most books from the library is just too much.

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  7. When FA will be off to Texas A & M?

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  8. While I certainly understand the desire to bring the books back and to allow for browsing, I think its shortsighted to see libraries principally (or even mainly) book-warehouses. They really are now better seen as departments of information storage. And its clear that as we head into the future, that means managing technology even more than it means managing books. We may not like it as academics, but that seems to be the truth of the matter. In my opinion -- having served on the Library Affairs and Open Access Committees -- Dean Carlson has done a pretty good job in guiding the library towards this new model.

    And as much as I love books and want to see the books back in the library, I tire of the easy complaints that they're not doing their job over there. In all honesty, I think some of the faculty need to adapt more than I think the library needs to change.

    I hope I don't sound too harsh. I do respect those who have problems with the library. I'm just very passionate that the library is a top notch facility that is one of the only forward looking institutions on campus.

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  9. I must give a standing ovation to Anonymous 9:04pm! As a library faculty member, I could not have said it better myself. I would like to add a couple of things. First, in response to Dave's comment of 12:32am, "Assuming Carlson had the authority to prioritize [the budget]" - my understanding is that he has NOT had the authority for quite awhile, a couple of years, even. Second, the Library Affairs Advisory Committee recently sent a resolution to Anthony Hall requesting, among other things, that the books in McLafferty be returned to Morris. Not only did Anthony Hall disagree, they *told* Carlson to write a response to the resolution saying "thanks, but no thanks."

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  10. It's high time this issue come before the Faculty Senate, do we not agree?

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  11. Beth, thanks for your comment. If Carlson has indeed been pushing as hard as he can to get the books back, and making that a high priority, then my last criticism was ill-founded. It is unfortunate that he responded "thanks, but no thanks", under central administrative pressure, but I suppose initiating a (now successful) job hunt is one rational response to being told by Anthony Hall that you can't get the books back into your library.

    Let me try to limit the damage by saying that I never meant to suggest that library faculty (or the library advisory committee) didn't make getting books back a priority, only that whoever was in charge of budgeting for the renovations (a "whoever" I identified with Carlson) failed to make the return of books an adequate priority by not ensuring adequate funding remained to do so. Anonymous 9:04 raises some good points to explain why the books aren't back, but it still seems unclear to me whether the current locale for older books was (a) necessitated by unforeseeable circumstances (higher costs for necessary building expenses), (b) the result of a defensible decision between different academic priorities (say, digital versus print--to allude to Scott's smart contribution to this discussion), or (c) the result of an unjustifiable decision to give amenities (coffee shop, fountain, furnishings) a higher priority than academics.

    Finally, let me suggest that publicity may be one good way to wage the fight to get the books back. My ignorance on such matters may well be culpable, but I'm not the only one to fail to understand why our library lacks books. If the library affairs committee or library faculty could make an effort to get a story into the DE or Southern, this might well help.

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  12. I agree with Anonymous 9:04, Scott McClurg, and Beth Cox. If you want the books back in the library, talk to the administration and the state of Illinois.

    Regarding the patio fundraising: the patio cost around $25,000. The compact shelving will cost upwards of $1,000,000. Saying "the brick patio cost rather less" than the shelving is quite an understatement.

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  13. Anonymous (10:51)

    The patio was around $130,000.

    When President Poshard says that the university doesn't have trouble getting from the state money for capital projects, I wonder why the library doesn't have a construction crew in the basement right now.

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  14. CDL Humanities and Fine ArtsJanuary 5, 2012 at 1:23 PM

    It is heartening to see a public discussion of the library and I hope this discussion broadens into a campus-wide issue. I would love to see the books come home to Morris, but that is just part of the problem. Without understanding the library’s budget any new Dean is sure to disappoint almost immediately the expectation of departmental faculty.
    I have hands-on experience with the materials budget, and I would like to clarify what has happened to the library. In 2001 the library received $4,480,335 to spend on all materials (books, journals, databases) in 2009 the library received $4,917,584. According to Bureau of Labor’s “Consumer Price Index” the library should have received $5,427,428 in 2009 just to maintain the buying power of 2001. This also means that by 2011 that amount should have been $5,723,242 rather than the $5,382,962 we received (Carlson must be credited with fighting for a guaranteed 3% increase to the materials budget that came into effect in 2011).
    But, we are not dealing with standard inflation here. At least 2/3 of the budget is dedicated to disciplines that run higher than standard inflation, 5-8% in an “OK” year. So, in 2001 the cost of serials and databases amounted to $3,651,361 and in 2009 it was $4,672,968 – not the $4,156,489 rate we would have seen had cost been tied to the CPI.
    Naturally, books took a hit. In 2001 we had $828,974 for books; in 2009 we had $244,616. I say “naturally” with great reluctance because books are the only variable in our budget that don’t involve licensing or contracts. As a person responsible for predominately print-based fields, I feel this pain personally.
    In Sum:
    Between 2001 – 2009 the library operated with a flat materials budget. This meant a substantial cut in buying power. The library was forced to resolve this shortfall with annual cuts to the book budget and twice undertaking major serial/database cancellations. Unless the new Dean can feed the 5000 with a few loaves and fishes do not expect this to change with a new Dean.
    The only way to feasibly limit the inflationary (some say “predatory”) pricing of the major Science/Technology/Engineering vendors would be to cancel contracts and subscriptions with them. This would have the effect of de-accrediting entire programs on campus. Do not expect any library Dean to actively decide the fate of university academic programs with the wholesale cancelling of their “essential resources.” In other words, the inflationary pressure of these vendors on the budget will continue.
    We in the library would like to think there is more to the library than print or electronic resources. We like to believe the people known as librarians are important too, thus it is disheartening when vacated positions remain unfilled year after year. I have been here 4 ½ years, and during that entire time I think we had a business librarian for about 9 months. A business librarian is a core librarian for a healthy library. Additionally, there have been a steady stream of vacated positions, Carlson is just the one with name recognition, and these positions are not being filled.

    In short we have a dwindling materials budget, we are short-staffed, and we are in a building with 3 unfinished floors and no place left to put new books let alone our old ones (we just cannibalized part of the fourth floor for our Library of Congress collection). I can’t imagine stepping into the role of Dean under these circumstances.
    I finish with a prediction; one of the first tasks of the new Dean will be to undertake a major serial/data cancellation. Whatever good graces may have been extended to this new Dean will be short-lived simply because we do not have the money to maintain, let alone expand, the library.

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  15. CDL, Thanks fior your detailed post. It all goes to show that priorities are wrong on this campus with money going to sport and pet building projects. However, Carlson wanted the new library to resemble the Student centre hence we have a Starbucks coffeee bar there rather than in the Student Center and the end of the library being a place of silence as anyone who has encountered the noisy talk, cell phones, and food and coffee smells. Kep the Librarty and Student Facilities separate.

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  16. I know for a fact that the patio outside Morris Library was completely funded through private donations and the purchasing of memorial/commemorative bricks and seating. No library funds or state funds were used for this project. All SIU Funding comes from a wide variety of areas and streams of income. Money that is dedicated for building projects by the legislature cannot be used anywhere else. Most State funding is specified in its use. It cannot be redirected and used elsewhere. So please take the time to check the facts and figures when commenting on funding issues.

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  17. Anonymous (4:18):

    None of the comments here claimed that the patio funds came from anywhere other than private donations.

    "But imagine, if you will, raising funds not for a brick patio but for bringing the books back--and paying for the shelves required."

    If I were asked, I would donate at least a week's pay to bring the books back, but the library has never asked me for money for that.

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  18. Why should we donate for something that should be an essential part of the university? Poshard and Cheng need to be questioned about their wasteful priorities, the latest being new Housing complexes that even Gary Metro criticized in a period of economic retrenchment!

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  19. Those in this thread have much more in common than not--despite some testy exchanges. I'm very glad to see the informed comments from library insiders.

    How, then, do we get this discussion out to a wider audience that may allow us to better support the library? And what could we do to support the library? Letters to the editor? "Collective action" in the form of bake sales for the library (meant more to draw attention to its low funding then to raise money for it)? Getting the faculty senate involved?

    The renovation to the building has given us a potential to make the library a real gem--but if the people, books, and data collections within are being decimated, the facade is only a facade.

    If we can afford to build new dorms and new sports facilities we can afford a library with books.

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  20. Concerning your last sentence, Dave - Exactly!It is now time to raise this issue on Senate and Graduate Council Agendas since these groups sat back and did nothing about this scandal.

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  21. As an anonymous insider, I agree that the funding issues and their results can be laid squarely on Anthony Hall's doorstep.

    That said, Carlson, at least for the last year, has failed in another aspect: leadership. Even before the ISS debacle, library morale was plunging and staff were looking to the library administration for guidance and encouragement. They got nothing. Carlson was especially invisible right when staff needed him. The consensus among those I've talked to is that his response to recent problems has been worse than useless. In short, he's overseen almost as much damage to the remaining staff (and perhaps driven some of the recently departed staff away) as he has to access to print collections.

    To put this in perspective, when the press release announcing Carlson's move to Texas appeared, I heard a song of joy drifting through the halls.

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  22. While we're tossing around blame at the library, we should also note that by the end of the fiscal year, the library will have lost about 50% of its staff. This over the course of only a year. I'm not talking turnover, here. The library will have 50% fewer employees this July than last.

    The transfer of ISS/CTE accounts for the majority of the lost positions, but the library has also shed handfuls of faculty members, who have not been replaced. The impression in the building is that Carlson and Co. have not fought hard enough to have the positions filled. The atmosphere is such that it seems the majority of remaining faculty as looking for work elsewhere. And plenty of us still left are wondering if they will be replaced with faculty members or if the library will only be able to get civil service staff to cover the duties.

    Worst case scenario: Prepare yourselves for a library without books and without experts to help you navigate what collections are left.

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  23. I remember years ago Wendler tried to have a library fee for students. It was ruled (by someone) that this is not allowed under state law. YO can only have fees for non academics. Academic funding has to come from tuition or the state. But my remembrance of this is hazy.

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  24. Mike,

    I remember that too. Within a year of when I heard that academic services couldn't be funded by fees, the student services building fee was added. Within a year after that, the building maintenance fee was added.

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  25. Students also pay fees to support language labs in my department (DFLL). That sounds like an academic fee to me. I'm not suggesting that we should add a library fee, just questioning whether it is indeed not allowed. Often when one hears that X is "not allowed by state law" that is just someone's way of defending the status quo, or trying to turn down a request they don't favor. The biggest example of this is of course the argument that Saluki Way funds couldn't have gone to anything else (despite that fact that more than half came from student fees which could go to a wide range of things).

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