s Thoughts from the Physics Chick: At MY school

Friday, August 19, 2005

At MY school

I bit my tongue all through the library tour to stop myself from saying “Well, at my school, they didn’t do it that way” because that’s pretty much the most annoying thing a new student can ever do. But I think I’m going to miss BYU’s library enormously. In fairness, UIUC’s library is the largest public university library in the country, the third largest academic library (after Harvard and Yale) and the fifth largest library overall (after the Library of Congress, Harvard, Yale and . . . someone else, I guess). HOWEVER,

1. The main library is not air conditioned.

I do love the architecture on campus here – the buildings are, on average, much older than BYU’s buildings, and even the new ones have been built to match the older style. (Do you hear that BYU? You didn’t have to build the gosh-awful JKHB and SFLS. You could have made more Grant and Maeser buildings.) This makes campus navigation a bit tricky for the new student, as every building is a tasteful Georgian brownstone manor, but I find the pleasing presentation to the eye well worth the difficulty in orientation. Another, rather unforeseen consequence of a relatively old infrastructure is that most of the buildings were built without air conditioning, and the retrofitting of central air has not always been terribly successful. Which leaves the main stacks essentially without air in a hot, humid Illinois summer. I have no care for my own comfort, of course. My only concern is for the books themselves. (Seriously, such dramatic changes in temperature and humidity over the course of days or weeks can’t be good for them. Air conditioning was invented to prevent paper from warping and stretching.)

2. Lack of centralization.

The university’s “Departmental Libraries” page lists 62 separate institutions. Granted some of these are library-related auxiliaries (such as ILL and the bindery), but at least 40 of these are genuinely independent units. I suppose that there are some advantages to this system, especially on such a large campus, but the centralization of BYU’s HBLL has been very convenient for diverse interests and tastes. (And I remember being distinctly annoyed the one time when I had to trot over to the law library to find a book.)

3. Confusing layout.

See, in the HBLL there are six floors on the south side, but only five on the north. But that doesn’t matter because the sixth floor is closed to the public, anyway. And the floors in the atrium are taller than the floors in the older part of the library, so they don’t quite match up when you go from one to the other. And the CID is in the same building as the library, but you can’t get there from here. (Unless you have special permission. But you don’t.)

That’s nothing.

At UIUC, the main part of the library has five floors plus a sub-basement. The first five parts of the stacks have ten floors. The 1st floor of the East stacks connects to the 1st floor of the main library. (That part is fine.) The 3rd floor of the East stacks connects to the 2nd floor of the main library. The 5th floor of the East stacks connects to the 3rd floor, and the 7th and 9th East stacks floors connect to the 4th and 5th main library floors, respectively. The 2nd, 4th, 6th, 8th and 10th floors of the East stacks do not connect to any floors of the main library. The West stacks connect to the East stacks at a ratio of 3:2. Every other floor in the West stacks connects to a floor in the East stacks, happily with the same floor number. The floors that do not connect have numbers such as “floor 3.5” and “floor 8.5” – they connect to other floors via stairwells and, of course, the floors in the East stacks only connect to the West stacks on every third level.

And you know those high-density shelves in the older periodicals section? The ones that you think might accidentally squish someone? (But they can’t. Because that would be a ridiculous safety issue.) They have those in the West stacks. Only you have to be careful, because they’re older than the ones in the HBLL periodicals, and they don’t have automatic safeties. So you really could squish someone. (An ironic death for any librarian.)

4. They’re still on Dewey.

OK. I’ll be honest. I know, with every fiber of my being, that LC is superior to Dewey. I just can’t remember why, right now. From a more personal standpoint, Dewey was all I’d known up through and including high school, so LC was a bit of a shock when I came to BYU. But once I got used to it, LC came to represent the academic sophistication not to be found at my Dewey-based public and high school libraries. So having to go back to Dewey for grad school seems a bit like arriving and being told I have to have a hall pass to get out of class and I can’t go off campus for lunch. It’s patronizing.

As a matter of practicality, I find it much easier to remember LC’s [AA ####] system than Dewey’s [###.####]. Maybe I just have more of a head for letters than for numbers, or maybe it’s that the two LC letters can represent over 600 Dewey numbers, so there’s less to memorize. Either way, I would very much prefer a reclass.

5. Familiarity.

It’s true. I like BYU because it was BYU and I’m cranky with UIUC because it’s UIUC. I miss the bright and airy periodicals reading room with the overstuffed chairs. I miss the random Asian furniture. I miss the Pei-trium. I miss those sexy library security guards and I miss knowing where everything is. And I object, morally, to having a coffee shop in the middle of a library! I don’t care how tired you are.

Love the HBLL while you’ve got it, folks.


At August 31, 2005 2:28 PM, Blogger JB said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At August 31, 2005 2:31 PM, Blogger JB said...

I've missed the HBLL a lot too. I'm back in Provo (briefly, I think/hope) but I still can't check books out or even visit it much because I'm not a student and I work 40+ hours a week. I had to write a research paper without the HBLL and nearly had a nervous breakdown.

I went to UCLA and UCI and was bitterly disappointed at both. Partly because the HBLL just rocks, but partly because of the familiarity thing. Even if they ARE good, it's hard to be THAT good. And that centralized.

Good to hear you've got a highly-ranked library, though. That means they've at least got lots of books, right?

P.S. sorry for deleting the last one--I really hate typos.


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