It Was Never an Either/Or Choice, but Was the Mutilation of the Stacks Worse than the Abandonment of the Stacks?

This item originally appeared at Futility Closet (  It is being re-posted with the permission of Greg Ross, who maintains that site. You can have daily updates from the site delivered to your e-mail each morning.


Most mutilated journals in the library of the University of Nebraska, Omaha, September 1982-May 1983:

1. Personnel Psychology

2. Journal of Conflict Resolution

3. Journal of Politics

4. Judicature

5. Education and Urban Society

6. ASCE Journal of Hydraulics

7. Phylon

8. Journal of Humanistic Philosophy

9. Journal of Marriage and the Family

10. Journal of Experimental Psychology

(“Saving and Securing Library Materials,” American Libraries, November 1983, p. 651.)


I am assuming that the availability of journal articles and now even books in digital databases has greatly reduced this problem, especially since our students seem very seldom go to the library any more to look through the back issues of journals. The databases now include 25 to 30 years of material—and for our students, Reagan is as remote as the Jazz Age was to Baby Boomers.

Of course, that also means that students are simply not going to the library, except perhaps to use it as a study hall or another, somewhat quieter gathering place on campus.

I can recall the joy with which I would search the library stacks for materials as both an undergraduate and a graduate student—and that I still feel when I use a large library.

But at my regional campus, the library is very limited, and both the extensive interlibrary-loan services and the digital databases provided through Ohiolink have been a godsend for the faculty engaged in research and scholarship.

For the students, however, I can’t help but think that those services have been both a blessing and a loss. In my experience, the physical library is so associated with the experience of being a student that I cannot help but regret that my students are not even aware of what they are missing.

And since many students on campuses with large and even magnificent libraries now access their digital resources remotely, this phenomenon seems at best another example of how technology amounts, at best, to a very mixed blessing.

It may seem simply that I am simply being nostalgic, But I think that it is more than that. The rate of change has become so overwhelming (Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock on steroids) that we no longer seem even to recognize, never mind thoughtfully consider, the real costs of “progress.”



My previous re-posts from Futility Closet have included:

“But Should It Count toward Promotion and Tenure”:

“Another Item of Ironic Scholarship from Futility Closet”:

“Odd Library Subject Headings”:

“Herein Lies Another Route to Madness”:

“How-To Books That Make One Wonder Why”:

“Higher Ed’s Version of the Great Imposter”:

“ A Significant Portion of Someone’s Life Was Devoted to Writing Each of These Books”:

“Making Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow a Little Less Mundane”:

“Parsing the Paradoxical Nature of Politics”:

“The Pyramid Cemetery”:

“How to Make the Case for an Article’s Publication”:

“Plagiarism and Cryptomnesia”:

“Taking Literary Minimalism to Its Endpoint”:

“A Postscript to One-Word Poems: A Poem without Words—from the Academe Archives No Less”:


4 thoughts on “It Was Never an Either/Or Choice, but Was the Mutilation of the Stacks Worse than the Abandonment of the Stacks?

  1. It’s not clear to me what the connection is between mutilated journals and library use.

    At our small, rural, and poorly funded community college, students are surveyed every other year regarding what they like and don’t like. The library is always ranked highly- often higher than any other service or department on campus. The students consistently state that they like the library as a *place* as well- they like our armchairs, our study rooms, our computer carrels, our quiet zone, our group study tables. They rate our collections highly, too. The library is typically packed during any time it’s open. There’s a nice “buzz” of activity. Maybe at richer, more elite colleges, the more privileged students are more likely to take the library for granted and succumb to the allure of new expensive toys?

    • I was simply suggesting that the availability of journal articles digitally has probably largely solved the problem of journal mutilation, but it also seems to have reduced traffic in academic libraries.

      If your library continues to receive a great deal of student use, that’s terrific.

      But when I was recently at our main university library, I noticed that although the computer terminals were almost all in use, there was almost no one in the stacks other than library staff. And, by the way, a large percentage of the students at my university are first-generation students–not “richer,” “more elite,” or “privileged.”

  2. Pingback: Bad Writing as a Momentary Source of Joy, Rather Than a Reason for Prolonged Disdain, Disgust, or Despair | Academe Blog

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