Academia is lost

…or at least the concept of property is lost in academia. Yesterday we had somebody turn in half a dozen miniature scores upon which every library ID marking (including the barcodes we use to check them in) had been covered over with permanent white labels. This included in one case an old embossed stamp which was in the content of the score (thus the label covered up the notes). I have no idea why, unless it had to do with a competition. He’s being charged for the items. Then last night in the book drop, a grad student left another half-dozen books full of underlinings and markings in pencil. He might have gotten away with it had he not left a paper tab in a marked page, with writing on it that matched the annotations. I checked the items back out to him and “invited” him to erase the markings before I would take them off his record (unless he wanted to take the other option, which would be to pay the University-default $115 per item.)  He sent me a polite email accepting my invitation, but defending himself:

I was unaware of how much this practice bothered the library …. I used to always erase my markings. The reason I leave underlinings and comments is due to some advice from a Medieval Studies professor. He once said that we should all perform glosses in modern texts by leaving our notes in their pages, just as medieval scholars did, because it gives other current and future readers insights into what others thought about the text. In fact, one of the books I was underlining in spends several pages discussing marginalia written in modern books…

Gloss away, in your own books. I’m cool with that. But tell me…when you buy used textbooks, do you prefer the clean copies, or the “value added” copies? What do your fellow students prefer?

A library is not a commons. These are not “the students’ books”.  They belong to the University, which in exchange for a bundle of bucks allows you to read them.  That bundle of bucks does not buy personal copies of commonly used books, for you to treat as your own property. If we had to do that, our purchases of real scholarly works would be minimal. You could forget things like the Margaret Bent commentary/facsimile of Bologna Q15 that’s sitting in my office waiting for a shelf label. And we wouldn’t be buying so much popular music studies and “gender studies” crap either, unless required for a course, in which case we’d be buying the umpteen copies to mark up.

There’s a missing concept here: “property”. And it’s being anti-taught by some Medieval Studies prof somewhere.

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4 Responses to Academia is lost

  1. rwp says:

    I had a carrel until I got sick of people marking in the books there. I guess they would sit down at my carrel, open the books, and write things in the margins, even on the title page.

  2. jeffreyquick says:

    No carrels here, but back at Michigan in the 70s, I would not even dare to sit in a carrel that had anything in it. Those places and things belonged to “the grad students”. It’s not like they’d kick the snot out of us, or anything; it just wasn’t our place. It was a respect issue. And if it were “Dr. B’s carrel”. well, even more so. As for writing in books, we were sure there was a room in Hell where demons eternally administered paper cuts for such things.

  3. kishnevi says:

    Go back to the medieval practice. Chain the books to the shelves, and let them use them during library hours.

    Do you know if Kindle has a glossing capacity?
    I still have some of the books I used “back then”. To an alarmingly high percentage, most of the glossing I did sounds somewhere between trite and silly now when I go to read the same books.

    Carrels at Emory: the unstated rules were, if a carrel had books in it, it was not to be used except during finals, when every spot was in use anyway; during finals, they could be used as long as the grad student’s stuff was left alone and if the grad student showed up, we left immediately.
    This was mitigated by the fact that only serious study took place in the carrels. Those who used studying as an excuse to socialize–meaning almost all the undergrads, except during finals time (even including me!)–congregated in the reading rooms on the lower levels, leaving the grad students and their property in peace.

  4. jeffreyquick says:

    I guess we’ll find out about Kindle soon enough:
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124146996831184563.html
    The last sentence is literally the money quote.

    If we chained the books down, we’d have to police the stacks. And I’m not a cop.

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