Banning Books From a Library

Are you as disgusted by this arrant idiocy as I am?

North Carolina State University will soon open Hunt Library, to the applause of many – it is clean, modern, full of open spaces… but devoid of books.

Time and Ploughshares Literary Magazine compare it to an Apple store. A quick tour via the library’s YouTube video displays bright rooms, full of crayon-toned colors and vaulted ceilings. There are more than 80 types of chairs in the library (from classic wooden models to poppy-red bubble chairs), but only a few sparsely placed bookshelves.

Instead, books are transported from hidden archives through a mechanized procedure called “bookBot.” This system, according to the library, frees space for “collaborative work.” The library features a “Game Lab” with a 21-foot-wide screen and 270-degree projectors. “No other students in the state will have access to as much technology as they’ve had access to here in the Hunt Library,” boasts the digital library’s Associate Director, Kristen Antelman.

Books are removed from a library to free up space for something called “collaborative work”? This sounds like a scene from a nightmare. Or from the Soviet reality. What is this but a totalitarian paradise where the solitary musings of an intellectual are substituted with the collective chirping of the brainless?

If this is happening at North Carolina State University, does that mean that taxpayers are paying for this monument to stupidity and anti-intellectualism? This sorry excuse for a university needs to be boycotted.

26 thoughts on “Banning Books From a Library

  1. Idk, At Cornell I really enjoyed doing work at the desks in the library, even when the work didn’t actually require the books available at the library. Many, many other students felt the same way. I enjoyed doing group projects in areas of libraries that allow talking as well. The books are still accessible, what’s the problem?


    1. “The books are still accessible, what’s the problem?”

      – The library is turned from being a place where people are surrounded by books into a place where people are surrounded by gadgets. Their use of books is 100% monitored and recorded.

      One thing I really love about American libraries – as opposed to Soviet libraries is that here books are in plain view and easily accessible. You wander around them, browse, discover previously unknown authors. Back in my country, we had the same model as the one proposed here: books are confined in a repository and you can’t just spend time with them. You have to know exactly what you want, request it, and have it delivered for you. Just being around books is impossible. Gaining access to books without anybody keeping a record of that is also impossible.

      WHY is this model being adopted in the US in the midst of the NSA scandal, too?


    2. What Clarissa said. Access to the books is not the same thing as access to the “stacks” as we librariphiles call them. Browsing the “stacks” of a research-caliber library is a very different experience than browsing its catalog, in card or database form. This is analogous to, if not related to, the practices of the NSA. The data may well be in the public record, but the metadata (the data about the data) are accessible only by those with clearance.


  2. Books are removed from a library to free up space for something called “collaborative work”? This sounds like a scene from a nightmare. Or from the Soviet reality. What is this but a totalitarian paradise where the solitary musings of an intellectual are substituted with the collective chirping of the brainless?

    I have not visited the new “library,” but if your analysis is correct welcome to our Brave New World. Remember Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451? Don’t be too harsh on the “brainless” and uninformed. They have become our new masters and we must try to appease them. I suppose.

    How about Kurt Vonnegut, Junior’s Handicapper General?

    The satire raises a serious question concerning desirability of social equality and the extent to which society is prepared to go to achieve it.
    . . . .
    It is the year 2081. Because of Amendments to the Constitution, every American is fully equal, meaning that no one is smarter, better-looking, stronger, or faster than anyone else. The Handicapper General and a team of agents ensure that the laws of equality are enforced. The government forces citizens to wear “handicaps” (a mask if they are too handsome or beautiful, earphones with deafening radio signals to make intelligent people unable to concentrate and form thoughts, and heavy weights to slow down those who are too strong or fast).

    At least some “food for thought” resides there.

    Sorry for the Wikipedia links; many of the books I cherished were lost when we moved ashore from our sailboat here in Panama several years and I have not yet been able to replace them.



    1. A state university introduces a library where people cannot browse through books without there being a record of that. This sounds very ominous in the midst of the NSA revelations. I’m not a conspiracy theorist but this development seems very disturbing.


  3. This is horrible. I have read so many interesting things in books that were on the same shelf as the books I was looking for that just reading about “bookBot” makes me want to barf. Speaking about barfing, Clarissa have you read The Name of the Wind yet? It was on your 50 book challenge list because you said that you wanted to give fantasy a try, and asked for recommendations. I just finished reading a funny and pissed take-down of the book in the blog, Doing in the Wizard, and I hope you will read that instead.


  4. I also come from a country where you had to request books instead of being able to browse them. But I’m not traumatized by it. I of course love libraries where you can browse endlessly all kind of books; I have special memories of those extremely cold places. I wouldn’t want them to disappear but I’m not against experimental kind of projects like this. They’re obviously not aimed at intellectuals but I don’t see that they should feel completely alienated by them.


      1. You’re right this is fine for a public library project but probably not the best idea for a university that is supposed to attract intellectuals rather than just accomodate them.


        1. Any public library is financed by taxpayer money. I still find it very disturbing that state facilities want to keep such a tight check on which books readers access.

          I feel that we are going in the direction where you will not be able to hold a book without a governmental agency having a record of that.


      2. During summer breaks many years ago back in the late 1950’s when I was a kid in high school, I would catch a ride with my dad’s carpool to his office several times each week and then walk a few blocks to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. There, I would browse through the card catalogs, find the books I wanted to look at and order them. After a short wait, they would be delivered. I did my reading and then returned them to the desk when finished. If I had not finished with the books by the time I had to leave to catch my ride home, I could leave a note to the effect that I had not finished and they would be there when I returned the next day.

        There were some alcoves where it was possible to thumb through selected books on a few topics, but that’s about it.

        The stacks at the Library of Congress were, obviously, humongous, and it would have been impractical to permit those not familiar with them to go rummaging for books. I question whether that is necessary or even appropriate for a much smaller facility.


        1. Yes, the Library of Congress is one thing but the collection at this state school is bound to be quite limited. I’m sure there are many other places where people can just sit and chat on campus. Why create one more?


    1. // You’re right this is fine for a public library project

      I would be furious to see such in my public library. Choosing books becomes much more difficult and time consuming.

      // then walk a few blocks to the Library of Congress in Washington,

      Sounds like a great experience. 🙂


  5. It’s no longer a library is it? It’s a sort of common room where you can access books through a hole in a wall.

    Libraries are, by definition, places where you can browse books and borrow them to take home or read/study in silence sur place.

    A place where there are gadgets and no books and you can talk in groups is probably more appropriately called a ‘media centre’. The word ‘library’ should be removed from the building because it will lead to confusion as to its purpose…

    Removing easy access to learning seems a strange target for a university, I must say.


  6. I agree that browsing bookshelves yourself is a different experience altogether. F.e. what if you are unsure which of the 20 books holds relevant information or which book is written in a style you want to read / work with? It’s much easier for everybody to let readers direct access to books. I am sure that with the direct access students find books that they never will in the new system.

    I would be angry to see something like this even in a public library near my home, where it’s probably less crucial than in a university. Because browsing bookshelves is both pleasurable, a sort of special power feeling, and much more convenient in finding books one wants to read.


    1. Btw, another proof that the new idea is a mistake is given by book shops. In a free market, when the goal is to make / help people choose a book, books are on the shelves in front of you, not in a computer catalogue to look at via request, while you’re drinking coffee with croissant in the place or something.


      1. I always go to a section of interest to me and browse around to discover interesting titles. It is ridiculous that this very common way of discovering new books should be taken away. And why? Just to give people a bigger seating area? If there is something that’s in abundance in this country it is seating space. I’ve never heard of anybody not finding a place to sit on campus.


    2. Exactly! It is an experience that engages the senses. The smell of books, the tactile experience, looking at all the different covers and formats! Why should this all be taken away?


  7. The book bot is awful. I frequently browse the other books on the shelf when I go to pick up one. Then, I end up with five more usually. With a robot delivering books to you, there’s no chance of finding related books. I know some library catalogues do have a “other books near this call number” feature. But the books I browse aren’t always that close in number — maybe a whole stack over. This is awful and will degrade research.


  8. I do not like closed-stacks libraries (sorry, NYPL). Fie… has the reason why – the process of selecting one physical book from its neighboring books can lead one to books one would not have considered. Closed-stacks libraries are particularly annoying for the ordinary non-academic user. St. Louis City Library Main branch used to be closed-stacks, and I rarely went there, preferring to have the requested book delivered to my local branch. The newly renovated Main branch now has open stacks.


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