The word Orwellian is overused, but it appears to apply well to recent developments at the library at my alma mater.
A couple of years ago, the administration fired most of the book-knowledgeable staff and hired a head librarian also known as named Tavrnwr (a 64 Tauren hunter). Tavrnwr’s first move was to appoint a gaming librarian whose “primary responsibility will be for exploring, creating, supporting and promoting library resources through gaming and virtual worlds” [sic]. His second move was to open up a branch of the library on Second Life. His third was to replace the system by which books had previously been ordered on the basis of departmental recommendations with a new system in which purchases were determined by a book-listing service. His fourth was to cut the budget for off-list books and print journals virtually to zero, also cutting e-access to journals not on the mainstream data-bases. In short, he farmed out the entire business of acquisitions. That takes care of that!
The result of these actions was that McMaster won an ACLA award for having the Best University Library in North America. But take the rag away from your face, and get this. A few months ago, rumours began circulating that books were being dumped, in the middle of the night, into dumpsters backed up to the library docking bay. I almost blogged about this when I first heard, but then I thought: naw, that’s crazy talk, it can’t actually be happening. Today, however, I heard that the library’s old, valuable, multi-volume critical edition of the Mahabharata has gone missing, and that the library has no record that it ever existed. I’m not kidding. The books are suddenly nowhere, and there is no longer an entry for them in the catalogue. The professors who use the volumes are freaking out. The library is stonewalling, asking the professors to provide proof of the books’ existence. Fortunately, one industrious graduate student has a xerox of many pages, including a title page with the imprint of the library showing clearly. I will let you know how the library responds to the evidence.
Though naturally we are keeping an open mind, we cannot think of any explanation except that the rumours are true: that books are being dumped by people powerful enough to erase their records from the database. And you wonder why we’re paranoid about digital technology?