I think I’ve become a Feral Humanist

This morning, I had the pleasure of giving the opening talk at the ABLD/EBSLG/APBSLG Joint Meeting being hosted here at Stanford. I don’t often get the chance to give a “think piece” sort of talk, so it was actually both challenging and loads of fun to prepare for. The theme of the conference was Business Library ROI: Measuring Usage and Identifying Value, so I decided to talk about my concerns with the ROI framework, calling my talk How ROI Killed the Academic Library: A Cautionary Tale.

My final slide. Pretty hokey, huh?

A funny thing happened as I wrote the talk … I realized that I very well may have become a Feral Humanist. I ended up talking about books, and archives, and even serendipity. I blame my humanities colleagues, at Stanford and on-line. You know who you are. Feel free to read the full talk and judge for yourself. Or, just take a look at my concluding remarks:

Perhaps I have presented an overly romantic, even mystical portrait of academic libraries – and at a time when libraries and higher education are under the gun to get practical. But what I am suggesting is that if we don’t defend the hard to define and even harder to measure qualitative importance of libraries, who will?

And, I suspect that many of you probably agree with me, at least in principle, that universities ought to have great libraries, with expert staff and awesome collections and a range of services in support of teaching and research. But of course, we all face constraints in the forms of budgets, space, and competing priorities.

So, yes, by all means find good ways to measure our contributions to the aims of higher education. But also, please, take opportunities to evangelize on behalf of the immeasurable impact of libraries – make sure your administration knows that there is value in books that aren’t read, in data that hasn’t been used yet, in archives yet to be discovered, and in the mere fact of great libraries.

9 Responses to “I think I’ve become a Feral Humanist”


  1. 1 Mary Kelly (@librarymary40) June 5, 2012 at 11:55 am

    Love this post! As a public librarian and former bean counter, I am a lover of ROI and practical librarianship. However, there is a value in that what is not yet found. I suppose the trick is finding the balance. Perhaps this is a fundamental difference in the missions of University Libraries, Public libraries and archives.
    Mary

    • 2 Chris Bourg June 5, 2012 at 11:59 am

      Yes, I think it is a key difference. I fear that too many univ. libraries are having to back off of “just in case” collecting; and that differences btw big research libraries and all others will become more profound.

  2. 3 vincevince1006 May 3, 2012 at 7:10 am

    Excellent post! I’m going to be on a student planning board for re-modeling my college’s library and will keep this post in mind while discussing improvements for user space and data storage.

  3. 5 jesterqueen (@jesterqueen) April 18, 2012 at 7:03 pm

    Thank you, yes. I hate the trend towards quantifying the unmeasurable. And libraries ARE so hard to measure, damn it. Maybe they ought to start putting libraries on the tenure track. Once a library achieves tenure, it’s a lot harder to get rid of. Any takers?


  1. 1 Long Term Value and the Real Cost of Short Term Thinking | Trackback on July 16, 2013 at 7:45 am
  2. 2 How ROI killed the academic library « Feral Librarian Trackback on December 19, 2012 at 1:23 pm
  3. 3 We’re tweeting, now what? | Feral Librarian Trackback on May 2, 2012 at 9:55 am

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