The Experiment

It is noon of a summer Sunday and I have gone to San Jose to visit the future at its source. At the corner of two main streets the state university and the town have undertaken an experiment: they have mated two animals to create a third. The making of hybrids is always a gamble, as any rose fancier knows; quite a few are beautiful, others simply useless, but risk has never stopped the breeders, and we have gardens of beauty to thank for their efforts.

The town and the state college now have the same library. This is a new idea, and certainly a novel one upon which to expend considerable millions of dollars. The Martin Luther King library will function as the main library for San Jose State University and for the City of San Jose, opening very soon to these mixed constituencies.A reconnaissance of the place reveals that the critics were correct in their praise of the building, which is spacious, airy, well appointed and very handsome, after the fashion of modern spaces now, most of which seem attempts to bring warmth to ultra-modern décor; if I had to make a phrase I'd call the design Star Trek meets Borders Books.

The public have been allowed in to peer at the interior, which must seem very inconvenient for the staff who are yet assembling the place for its work. This is no time for criticism of operations or collection or anything else; give that a year and some fiddling. Libraries are like most other engines: they have to break themselves in gradually.

This one will get only a few runs around the block before the critics lick their pencils and begin to write the place up or off. The fate of this library and similar endeavors will depend largely upon the resolution of certain conflicts; all the talk thus far has been about blending and harmony, but all that is just noise to cover the bang that will come from the collision of these two worlds.

Nobody really knows what will happen. This new library is portrayed as an experiment in physics, but success will depend more on the elements of chemistry. Nobody has poured a public and a college library into a beaker before to see what would happen.

I do not think that the public sector will suffer much from the addition of the college library staff, collections or philosophy. I am wondering how well the college side will fare now that an urban public library has been dumped into their laps. I wonder what they will do for or about the homeless woman I found in the little café downstairs, mumbling her problems to the world, filthy, certainly no scholar; what of the man I found upstairs in the journals, amusing himself by flashing pornographic cartoon images on his computer screen for the world to see; these are commonplace everyday public library patrons in the big city. I asked one of the university librarians what he thought, and he told me, "I'm getting a lot of questions about what a novel is, that sort of thing. I don't plan to spend a lot of time on that, and if it comes down to a time conflict between the students and the public side, I know which one hired me and pays me, and it isn't the public library."

The frankness of that comment surprised me, but I wasn't shocked to find that a person who went into one sort of library wouldn't necessarily be happy to find himself and his career wedged into another type altogether. Me, I'm a public library man. I like the edgy ambience of the urban setting, and its denizens don't bother me a whit. I suspect that feeling may not be universal; the effect of that upon the operations of the new King facility will not be inconsiderable, though the shakeout may be, like most other things librarians do, a silent operation.

If I had to make a prediction I'd say that the future looks a lot more like King library than otherwise. Our friends the taxpayers require a lot of convincing to open their wallets, even for things like libraries, which in California used to be considered ordinary expenses of a civilized society. Future library projects, particularly large ones, are likely to be designed and promoted as benefiting multiple constituencies-a grim if realistic nod to our segmented society.

I would be willing to bet that the thing works itself out in the end; librarians are flexible creatures (say what they will under their breath), and in the end it will be their work that makes the place run well, as it very likely will.

Now, if only they would shift the library school to the new library and hold classes there-now that would be a revolution.


What a horrible idea!!! Public and academic libraries exist for two different purposes and serve two distinctly different clienteles.
More to the point, I, as an academic librarian, have no interest in dealing with the various mentally challenged wombats who populate the public libraries. It simply isn't my job. Let the public libraries deal with the drunks and the pornographers and the crazed. That's what they're there for. As academic librarians we serve a higher and better purpose and simply should have to bother with the trashy riff-raff of society.

I think this type of snooty attitude, my fellow librarian, can give our profession a bad reputation. I think that librarians should want to deal with any type of person that wants to use the library, regardless of who those patrons may be, smelly or dirty or ugly or somehow not what we take a liking to. I also think that as librarians, particularly those in public services, we are called to SERVE all library users except for the ones that are "not decent." I, however, would define "not decent" as "rude, delinquent, or belligerent," and not as "smelly nasty people." Libraries should serve everyone interested, and librarians should always give patrons the unexpected as we try to abolish our cranky old maid stereotype. Then maybe we can get a few more people interested.

Why should an academic librarian have to deal with those human scum? The pornographers, the homeless, the drunks, the drug addled. Read my lips I'M AN ACADEMIC LIBRARIAN I am not a police officer, a social worker, a psychologist, an advocate for the rights of the homeless or a drugs counselor. I'M AN ACADEMIC LIBRARIAN
You may call me a troll, but there are more librarians around who share my views than you'd like to admit. The fact that it's a public university doesn't give the public license to run all over what our primary mission is.
Despite what you think there are still some of us out here who are working to preserve traditional values and high academic standards. We're not going to give in to you worthless leftists who want to bring every institution in society down to your own impoverished level.

I have worked as a reference librarian in an academic library for ten years and have eights years of experience working as a reference librarian in public libraries. I have found some differences. They are as follows:
Public reference librarians need to know something about everything. Academic librarians are more focused on specific disciplines and thus often need a second masters in a particular field of study. But having a second masters often makes academic librarians arrogant. Public librarians work harder than academic librarians because there is not way that a public librarian can anticipate what the next question will be. Public librarians need to change their approach with every patron that asks for help. One minute you can help an octogenarian find information on dementia. The next minute an eight year old will ask you to find a picture of the body parts of a nematode. In the academic library most of the reference questions can be anticipated based on the courses being taught in a particular semester. I enjoyed the pay at the college library but I was often bored because I had to answer the same questions over and over. In the public library there is never a dull moment, we can be busy regardless of the time of day or day of the week or season of the year.

By combining the collections of an academic library and a public library everyone in the community should benefit. The general public will have a larger and more scholarly non-fiction collection to select from and the academic community can gain access to the popular works that non-academic world demands.

As for problems of the academic librarians having to working with the scum of society. How many academic librarians have had to help students who were spaced out or just didn't want to do the research assignment? Regard of who walks into a library, all librarians should treat people equally. I once read that a good librarian leaves his/her religion, politics and social viewpoints at the back door when they begin their workday.

Why am I not surprised that Anonymous is exactly that? If not a troll, this person really ought to become a hermit. He/she certainly has no business working in a public university library, supported primarily by public taxes, with a mission to serve the public weal.

And with, unless Anonymous' university is an exception, just as many strange, ignorant, and dirty people as any public library.

And, of course, Lis is right: San Jose's putting up a big chunk of the bill for all of this...

To lower the tone a little: It's fairly clear that university-library and public-library functions are intermingled but still somewhat separate, on a floor-by-floor basis. The poor academic souls who just can't stomach us ignorant taxpayers can probably hide in staff areas on floors 5-8.

Of course it's below our dignity to deal with those people. If I wanted to work in a public library I would have decided to work in a public library. As the earlier poster put so well -- let the wombats infest the public library. Leave the academic libraries alone. In an ideal world we would have high walls around the university and no one except students, faculty, and staff would be allowed on the grounds. We simply don't need those ignorant dirty people cluttering up our landscape. They have no business in our buildings.

I have tosay that I'm astonished by the statement that the public library patrons won't suffer by this arrangement, juxtaposed as it is with the frank and unembarrassed statement of the unnamed academic librarian that the needs of public patrons will be disregarded, and the statements of other commenters expressing utter contempt for the general public. OF COURSE the general public is going to suffer by this arrangement, if the librarians charged with serving them regard it as beneath their dignity and no part of their job to provide that service.

As for who's paying that academic librarian--is no taxpayer money coming from the city to help fund this combined library? If not, why did the school agree to it? Or is it just that taxpayer money "doesn't count" ?

The community college libraries in Massachusetts are all open to the general public, and Massachusetts residents who are not students or in any other way affiliated with them can use the library and check out books.

Last semester I worked in one of them as the evening reference librarian two nights a week. We got some general public users, including high school kids working on papers for class, and adults looking for more health information than the public library had. They needed a bit more help than the students did to accomplish the same things, but they were also interesting to have around because they had different kinds of questions.


Could you send me contact info for some of those joint-use libraries? (Not because I doubt your word--I don't--but because I'm thinking about a column/article on what makes joint-use facilities good or bad things, workable or unworkable. I believe they can be either, so I'm not biased going in...)

San Jose is almost certainly the first time a *large* city and a *large* university have joined as equal partners in building a large joint-use facility; it's the scale (and equity, I think) rather than the nature that make it "unique." (And another joint academic/public library, 1/20th the building cost, opened a week or two after San Jose...)

[email protected]; info greatly appreciated!

It will be interesting to see how the new library is evaluated after it has been in operation for several months. I wonder how much cross-training they'll be doing -- I'd think it would be fun for some of the academic librarians to learn how to do readers advisory. I'd like to see an academic librarian partnered with a public librarian for a storytime!

"Nobody has poured a public and a college library into a beaker before to see what would happen."

Never before?

I know of at least 30 libraries that are run by a college but are public libraries as well (sometimes unofficially, but often officially with public library money). The general public can check out books, use databases, etc, and programming and collection development takes their needs into consideration.

I worked in an academic library that had a high volume of folks who were not students, faculty or staff. Generally they weren't allowed to access online databases or check out books, but were free to use the rest of the library. I was always happy to answer their reference questions or direct them to resources that could not otherwise be found in the public library system. Sure, there were some crusty and often oddball folks, but there were just as many in the university itself.

Heck, my own alma mater was postively crawling with brilliant yet hygenically-challenged young men and women. I was friends with a physics wiz who'd go weeks without bathing. Phew! Nasteee!

Anyway, I'm very interested to see how this will work out.

Obviously the person means they should NOT have to bother with the riff-raff of society. Grammar aside, the person has an excellent point. We simply should not have to, as librarians, deal with these smelly nasty people. They simply aren't the kind of decent people that libraries are intended for. If they have to go somewhere let them clog up the public libraries -- the academic libraries aren't meant for those kinds of people.

I've also worked in public and academic libraries and am now in the academic side, at a community college. One of the fringe benefits of working in academe is not having to be a social worker, dealing with marginal people whose needs are continuous and ones that you cannot fill. Public libraries, to paraphrase Robert Frost, are where they have to take you in. It's that aspect of being a holding tank that I miss least in my public library experience.

In the inner city it was the deviant criminal element where everything not tied down, including our phones, were stolen and folks often showed far more of themselves than we wanted to see.

In the affluent suburbs we were respite care for parents with adult developmentally impaired children, some of whom even suggested we hire their children so not only would we provide relief, we would even provide income. Never mind that they had the attention span and skills of a nine year old and their parents felt the need to dump them off at the library several days a week.

I think what would probably bug the academic librarians most and what would be the most difficult adjustment would be the "young adults", or teenagers to be more precise. They're young, but are definately not adults. Their need for attention, no matter what kind or at what cost will probably be the final straw in not making something like this work. Or, if it does work, only because there will be a kind of de facto separation of duties where the public librarians will do the necessary social work, policing, shmoozing the folks who need 15-30 minutes of your life.

I think the public librarians definately have the short end of the stick. They need to know more, be flexible, and adapt to the individual patron. They earn their pay.

What I find kind of amusing is the knock on academic librarians as being elitist. The public librarians, while they supposedly respected all of their patrons, actually did a whole lot of gossiping and complaining all the while. There was a definate us-versus-them mentality which might have been necessary for esprit-de-corps and collegiality, but did insinuate a superiority over the "riff-raff"

To sum it all up, I'm not sure it will work. Different expectations, skills, patrons, possibly even different salaries and working hours would seem to mitigate against it.

BTW, can you tell I don't miss the public part of librarianship? :]