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Works and Days

Five Days of Hope and Despair

March 19th, 2013 - 12:04 am

Here is a brief travel log of five days amid 21st century California.

Day One. A Virtual Library

Reader, I am returning today to the rather new, multimillion-dollar CSU Fresno Library. We’ve been there before, but I thought I would see whether things have changed from my last visit. It is easier to use than Stanford’s far larger holdings. Few students seem to check out books on history and literature, so recall is rare. (Few students inside know that it has over a million volumes and that its real creator, Henry Madden, was an eccentric genius.)

The glass and metal addition was underwritten by a local tribal casino corporation. It is far more lavish than the old library I used for a quarter-century: Starbucks inside, Wi-Fi, and plenty of lounging nooks. To get into the stacks, you go downstairs and push red and green buttons to move the huge tracked bookcases that are otherwise crammed together. I think the idea was to save space. But the inconvenience of waiting on slow-moving book cases does not seem to be warranted by opening up space for those who do not use books.

I studied ten random students as I walked about looking for six books. Four were engaged, eating and laughing, a sort of student-union experience surrounded by a backdrop of books — reminding me of talking heads that do interviews with faux tomes in the background.

Two were on cellphones (loudly so). Two were video-gaming on their laptops (from a few glimpses, they seemed glued to some sort of road race game and a military-style assassination exercise). One was reading, at a table marked “Physics,” and one was typing. Twenty percent at work confirms my earlier visits — given that the library has very little to do with students searching out books and articles in a repository, deferentially quiet in respect for other scholars, careful to eat and drink only in assigned places, and wide awake. Out with the old, in with the new.

Instead, the campus library that I saw is still not quite a library, at least by any definition that we used to employ. Most there had little visible interest in reading or writing. The stacks were for the most part not being used. It is part student union, part a movable Starbucks meet-and-greet over coffee and cookies, part a nice place to text, net surf, and play around with video games.

Better yet, the fact that it says “library” and not “student union” or “arcade” or “playhouse” makes it even more desirable. Today’s virtual student goes to a virtual library and does virtual research. That way you can be successful in that you are in “college” and you say you are “at the library” as you entertain yourself. Who cares whether someone knows the difference between the Parthenon and Pantheon or that e.g. is not quite i.e.? Get over it.

The popular culture changed the library; the library did not change the popular culture.

I have not researched the topic, but I expect that there is an entire literature on “reinventing the campus library” that goes way beyond e-books and the Internet, and talks grandly instead about democratizing “knowledge” and turning the library experience into something more relevant culturally to today’s students. Again, virtual libraries, virtual students, virtual degrees — I just hope that one of the students I saw texting and video-gaming is not the unionized public employee of the near future, guiding the lead car on the soon-to-be high-speed rail to Corcoran.

If the new library is now designed as a valuable cultural nexus, to throw together all sorts of young people of different classes, religions, and races, and at least expose them to the idea of sitting in a comfortable and humane learning place, overseen by courteous and professional staff, where reading is theoretically possible, then it is a smashing success.

If, on the other hand, it is supposed to be a place where disciplined young people individually pursue real knowledge in the liberal arts and sciences, through self-motivated and faculty-guided research, then it appears an utter failure. Does playing a video game next to the Iliad and Prometheus Bound mean that it is more likely that the video game is educational?

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Top Rated Comments   
So we of Professor Hansen's generation know and know it deep down that the world in which we grew up no longer exists. It is nice to reflect on what the Neo America is becoming but it is nostalgic to think that it ever would return to the past. The past is gone and is never coming back. The old America with its various vices and virtues is gone down history's memory hole. The English Catholic writer Evelyn Waugh who was a consumate pessimist about his modern world was once asked how he got through each day with his attitude. He related the story that he had owned an old English country house which was in bad repair and had decided to sell it. He said that after he sold it he would walk through it and would no longer care or worry about the various leaks and needed repairs because he realized that it was no longer his house, just as the modern world was no longer his world. It is no longer myhouse, Prof Hansen, and that is the best way to look at it.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Waxwing,

I spoke with God this morning. He told me to tell you that you are not listening and to double up on your Zyprexa.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (50)
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I think you may have misunderestimated the situation, Dr. Hanson. The students weren't there to read, write and learn anything; they were practicing the on-the-job skills they will need when they graduate and go to work for the government!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
At the end of Amity Schales' "Coolidge" she noted the comparison between Coolidge's 300 acres of mostly rock and wood farm in Vermont with Herbert Hoover's 1200 acres near Bakersfield.

Professor Davis seemed to have made a similar comparison today between his small holdings and the big corporate farms on the West side of the valley, 80 years later.

I wonder how much would change with the big farms if the ethanol mandate was removed?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"Soon-to-be" high speed rail...
LOL!!!!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I still miss the card catalog in the library! You could easily read a paragraph about each book in the order they were on the shelves. It was so quick and easy to use.

There have always been people that want to be seen going to the library, or seen in the library, that aren't there to read books. The Celsus Library in Ephesus (177 AD), had shelves for 12,000 scrolls and a secret passage to the high-end house of prostitution.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
How convenient, waxwing01!!!
Third world communities have a habit of accommodating this for prophets like yourself.
You can use this in your next sermon.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Now THIS is the kind of column I have hoped for from VDH since I came to PJM. Historical perspective, not partisan sniping. Nicely done.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
When you wish upon a star...
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The library at my old college has gone the same way. The first floor used to be the stacks with working tables here and there. Now the first floor is mostly open with wifi and rooms for watching movies. The wall that used to stand protectively between the cafeteria and the books is gone. The books themselves are on the second floor and rarely visited anymore because it is easier to look up something online, cut, paste, print, without the mind absorbing a thing.

The only books downstairs are the ones the library is selling. They are ignored by the students but you see older locals coming in to browse. I myself have saved many and added them to my own library.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
This is no time for nostalgia for premodern times. Life for the majority was "nasty, brutal, and short." Modernity with all its faults should be evaluated and celebrated. But it can go in different directions, as I laid out here: http://clarespark.com/2013/03/18/babel-vs-sinai/. I prefer Sinai, and perhaps some PJM readers and Dr. Hanson will join me.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Hate to be the bearer of conflicting news but....

The techie stuff aside, the atmosphere as described, could have well been from some of the smaller more rural states campus libraries I experienced in the 50s. Study groups visiting, snacking, some relaxing (snoozing) and some exploring for their next date (tutor of course). Then I remember libraries from the late 60s and early 70s especially, UCSB -- purely great entertainment, guitars and singing groups sitting on the floors, poetry groups sitting around, etc.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I appreciate what VDH says about the upside of agribusiness. At the same time, I wonder if there is not a market for very small, intensive produce farms that can supply fresh (and therefore delicious) fruits and vegetables to the Bay Area and L.A.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Anchorage has almost 11,000 heating degree days and has had measurable snowfall at the airport in every month except July, so it isn't exactly agriculture friendly. Yet, the Matanuska Valley, forty miles from downtown ANC, has a thriving small scale agriculture based solely on "fresh" and "Alaska grown." It is only a June, July, and August thing except for root crops like carrots and potatoes, but there are several thriving farmers' markets and even Safeway makes a big deal of local, especially local and organic, produce.

All that said, I don't know how much any of the farmers are really making. The Farmers' Market nearest me has a steady stream of Bimmers, Benz's, and Volvos every Saturday, but one day a week, three or four months a year doesn't seem like a great income stream to me. Here at least they have the advantage of very low taxes, unlike CA, but the short season and high costs for everything else is its own set of issues.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I vaguely recall some impressive crops in the fields near the Univ. of Fairbanks (or whatever you call it.) Those super-long summer days make for some monster veggies.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Hi D,

Did you get a monster cucumber at Fred Meyer's? Of was that fireworks?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Farmer's markets around here are trying to go year-round with jams, jellies, and greenhouse stuff. Barbara Kingsolver's book "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" on eating local for a year opened my eyes to some of the year-round stuff that goes on. I didn't finish the book and pay less attention to local growers than some, because I grow so much of my own, but as long as you have folks with disposable income about, some of this stuff will sell. As the climate warms, new areas should open up, like expanded potato production in Iceland.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
If not for the federal regulations and taxes, there would be. I looked at doing something like that with some of my land, but there are now so many regulations with more and more coming that you would have to really be dedicated and pray not to run afoul of inspectors and taxmen. The other problem is labor. Intensively grown vegetables and fruit are labor intensive and today labor is expensive. You might be able to start up a small scale brewery since that would add value to your produce, but even there the feds slam you.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
How true. And then try to get a booth at a Farmer's Market. You need to know somwone... Who sent you?

The cities and counties and whatever zones are all over this activity too. Funny, how the further up the Government food chain you can reach, the less "problem" you will have. Real funny!

Treasury Sec's son opens Farmer's Market booth! Se hpe easy it can be? Buy my book...
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
oh boy - see how.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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