Friday, November 10, 2006

The Blackest Moment in Library History

So today's gratuitous example of white guilt comes from the front page of the IDS, where I read that not only did the university completely capitulate on the idea of closing the Black Cultual Center's underused library, they've actually decided to throw more money at it.

Here's the background. Earlier this year, the head of IUB Libraries decided to reclaim $200,000 from its $27million budget - presumably to spend it on, you know, books and stuff. Officials went to the computer and found out which branches of the IU Library system were underused. The Black Cultural Center's library came up. (To come clean - I have no idea how this was decided. I assume it was based on book loan statistics. In any case, no one seems to be disputing the actual fact that the Black Cultural Center's Library is underused, so whatever the method it can't have been very controversial.) So they decided to close it. Of course, nothing about that implies that they were going to burn all the books or whatever; the books would have been available at the Main Library, and information about their status would have been accessible through the same database that they are now.

The Black Community®, however, saw this as "a symbolic attack on our people."

I swear I'm not making this up - it's in the first article link above. Actually, it's even better. Here's the full quote:

Courtney Williams, president of the Black Student Union, said if the African American Cultural Center Library closes, it could start to dismantle the entire black culture center. Williams and other students organized a protest Wednesday against the closing and circulated a petition and a letter calling for the library to remain open. "Closing our library -- the only black intellectual space on this decadent campus -- is a symbolic attack on our people," the letter read.

So am I to conclude from this that the Black Cultural Center isn't a "black intellectual space on this decadent campus?" You know, because the library they have is the only one? And since when is the Black Cultural Center's library only for black people anyway? The one time I was there I certainly don't remember any signs informing me that it was a "black" intellectual space (on this decadent campus)! I just assumed it was, you know, an intellectual space (on this decadent campus), like, for all IU students and stuff. Silly me, thinking that black people can study anywhere the rest of us can. Clearly, I was wrong, and they need a "black intellectual space (on this decadent campus)" to get their homework done.

Come to think of it, I really haven't seen that many black people studying at the Main Library. Maybe that's because it's not a "black intellectual space (on this decadent campus)."

But now I'm confused. Isn't the whole point of diversity supposed to be that we all do things together? You know, my studying is qualitatively different if I appreciate the inherent differences in white and black study methods? So...wouldn't it be better to have our black students and white students all use the same library? Isn't that why IU seeks to actively "interpolate the future" (instead of "extrapolating the past") and "ensure that Indiana University reflects the diversity of American society and supports the achievements of minorities in all aspects of university life?".

Well, sort of. In fact, what they want to do is encourage more students to use the Black Culture Center Library.

The most common feedback from students about the library was a desire for better technology and longer hours. Currently, the library is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, and it is closed on the weekend.

LONGER HOURS? Give me a goddam break. Maybe people have already forgotten that the library is underused. That's why they wanted to close it! If nobody is using it, how on God's Green Earth is it going to help anything (least of all the library's budget) to keep it open longer??? I mean, fine, if it were rarely open or something, maybe they would have a point. But 56 hours a week? Oh yeah - and they want to improve the technology too. This despite the fact that it has a computer lab - which even the Physics and Computer Science library (SWAIN) doesn't have!

So there you have it. White guilt eats into the library's budget. IU cares so much about the bluster of the 4.5% of its student population least likely to graduate that it can't buy computers for the Computer Science Library. OK, OK, I'm exaggerating. There are plenty of computers in Lindley Hall - no need to have them in Swain Library too. But you get the point. Money is being spent on making IU feel better about itself rather than improving the library system it is earmarked to serve.

Here's a modest proposal for a compromise. Let's put the Black Cultural Center Library on probation. Give it a (reasonable) deadline by which it has to improve its usage numbers or face closure. Publish this on the front page of the IDS, for all I care. Of course control for sabotage (that is, check to make sure the figures reflect actual broad interest and not the targeted checkout efforts of activists) - but providing it can meet the deadline, offer to keep it open then. If student activists can't persuade more people to take an interest in its holdings, however, then fair's fair, we would have had a more than ample demonstration of the fact that the library just isn't a high priority for IU students, and it would be proper to close it and move the books elsewhere.

What's absurd about this, and what should be resisted rather than conceded by the University Administration, is the idea that closing this library is a "symbolic attack" on anyone, let alone black people. It is rather an attack on me and my budget that my fees help pay for a library that isn't necessary and that no one uses. That its supporters have to resort to such ridiculous hyperbole in their statements only shows that they know this even better than I do.


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