It’s Blue Skies over the U.Maine Library (for now)-Part 1

In recent days the current President of the Maine Library Association, Nissa Flanagan, has published an Op Ed in both the Bangor Daily News (May 8) and the Lewiston Morning Sentinel (May 5) (and perhaps other Maine newspapers)  lamenting budget cuts to some of the University of Maine System’s seven campus libraries. Flanagan herself is a librarian at Merrill Memorial Library in Yarmouth.  She rightly criticizes those who, as is often the case across America, choose libraries and librarians as easy targets for downsizing and even elimination. These folks are, of course, found in K-12 public schools as well.

Such persons commonly believe that, these days, traditional libraries and librarians should be replaced as much as possible by laptops, smart phones, tablets, home study areas, and non-intellectual technical “experts.” Such persons often embrace the by now tired vision of a world largely devoid of printed books, of bookstores, and of course of libraries and librarians. If such persons had their way, the only book available anywhere in printed form would likely be Ray Bradbury’s classic anti-utopian Fahrenheit 451 (1953).

In my twenty-eight years at the University of Maine, I have met some administrators who veer in that direction. When I arrived at UMaine in 1986 I learned that Fogler Library’s subscription to the principal journal in my field, the history of technology, had recently been stopped despite our having subscribed to that inexpensive quarterly since its inception in 1959-1960. After my repeated protests, Fogler Library reinstated its subscription, but too late to obtain hard copies for two years of the journal. Instead, Fogler eventually got microfilm replacement copies–the bane of researchers in those days in terms of eye strain.

Years later, during the Presidency of Robert A. Kennedy, Fogler Library cut countless journal subscriptions without consulting the departments and programs that used those journals. After all, “what’s love [of journals] got to do with it?” In the case of the History Department, the foremost historical scholarly journal in America, The American Historical Review, fell victim to Kennedy’s apparent wrath. The “point man” in charge of this absurd policy was an Associate Provost who, after nearly forty years of teaching Botany, had never been promoted to full professor–testimony, no doubt, to D.G.’s “brilliant career” and in turn his remarkable expertise in being empowered to decide which journals to eliminate. Perhaps he never grasped the painfully obvious fact of life  that scientific, engineering, and medical journals generally cost far more than humanities and social science journals and that the savings in cutting subscriptions to the latter are far smaller than in cutting subscriptions to the former–the issue of journals’ importance aside.

Until some (but hardly all) of those inexpensive history journals were reinstated, many faculty with their own subscriptions generously donated their personal copies to Fogler Library. So, too, did faculty in other affected departments and programs. But this is certainly not the way to maintain the foremost research library in the state of Maine.

To her great credit, U.Maine’s recently departed Vice President for Finance and Administration, Janet Waldron, repeatedly supported Fogler Library’s budgetary needs to the extent that she, who didn’t establish library policy, could. If, alas, other UMaine System libraries have suffered cutbacks and may well suffer more, Fogler Library has been spared.

U.Maine President Paul Ferguson also deserves great thanks for providing crucial funds for creating three classrooms on the first floor of Fogler Library that are being used by several programs in writing and advising that hitherto were scattered across the campus.

Anyone who walks into Fogler Library these days sees a thriving building with lots of students, faculty, staff, and others at work and with wonderful librarians and other genuine library experts who know their stuff and are exceptionally helpful to all patrons. Maybe the System administrators who, according to Nissa Flanagan, have cut library budgets and staff at the other System campuses might leave their office suites in downtown Bangor and visit Fogler Library–with or without a copy of Fahrenheit 451 in hand.

(To be continued in a second blog)