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The Blue & Gray Press | October 23, 2017

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College’s Priorities Should be Academic

By PAUL TINDALL
Guest Columnist

Let’s be clear: I’m no star student. I won’t be the valedictorian of my class, and my main priority here at college is not necessarily always focused on education. I wouldn’t be caught dead doing homework Friday night, and Sunday is for football.

That said, I do my best to succeed in my classes, which as a political science major, involve a significant amount of research papers for which I require numerous sources. In other words, I need a lot of books and on a wide variety of topics, ranging from the World Trade Organization to Jean-Jacques Rousseau to defense spending in the United States.
For the purposes of this article, I’m going to focus on the latest paper I’ve been working on: one on the political effects of the massive defense budget in the U.S. There is a huge body of literature concerning this topic.

For instance, a simple Amazon.com search for “defense spending” returns exactly 9,234 results at the time of writing. So why is it that an identical search through the records of Simpson Library returns a mere eight results?

You heard that correct — Amazon.com returns over nine thousand, and Simpson gives me a grand total of eight, most of which are Congressional records of no use to me when I’m searching for a scholarly opinion, of which there are many concerning this topic.

I understand that we are the University of Mary Washington. We’re no U.Va. or William & Mary when it comes to budgetary concerns, and we naturally don’t get as much money as they do since our profile is smaller. However, we are still a university, a bastion of learning, a bulwark in the fight against ignorance.

If budgetary concerns get in the way of providing the students of this institution a proper education, then perhaps we should shut our doors, close up shop and direct prospective students to the better-funded libraries at the better-funded colleges in Virginia. Tell them sorry, but somewhere, our priorities became not those of a university. Somewhere we lost sight of the ultimate aim of this venture. We are here not to serve the students of this commonwealth but to save the state the cost of a book.

I can’t imagine anyone at this school saying such things, but even so, it seems to be implicit in their actions. I’m sure there are many people on whom blame can be placed, many levels of bureaucracy which go into determining whether or not a particular scholarly work is stocked on the shelves of Simpson. These reasons are nothing more than excuses — efforts by some to rationalize their responsibility, to pass off the deprivation of our education onto another.

While it may be difficult to the extreme to budget more money for an increased selection of books at Simpson Library, that’s not the point.

The point is, it shouldn’t be difficult, and the victims aren’t the bureaucrats making the decisions, they are the students living with them.

Perhaps I’m overreacting. So I couldn’t find a book about defense spending in the library. The point is, this example is endemic of a larger system of prioritization which doesn’t favor education first.

College is about more than education for sure, but when I need college to be about education, it needs to be there for me. And as I see it, UMW has failed on at least one count.

Comments

  1. One of the important things about using the library is knowing how to look.
    It took me a minute or two to figure out the LOC subject heading that defense spending would fall under and it is Department of Defense – Appropriations and Expenditures.
    Now if you take a look at the number of books under that subheading we have 295, far more than the 8 you found.
    I’m not saying it is as easy as just searching on Amazon but any reference librarian would certainly be able to help you.

  2. Charlie Sharpless

    Yes, Shannon is exactly right. Tindall’s “viewpoint” is the result of shoddy scholarship (“no star student” indeed) and not the library’s ineffectualness. This kind of nonsense should be checked by the Bullet editors before going to print. A much more thoughtful piece could have been constructed around the current dire fiscal situation and its effects on the library. It is absolutely true that our library struggles to keep current and relevant holdings on a tight budget, but Tindall doesn’t bother trying to find out the details. How about some interviews with subject or reference librarians? Or someone higher in the administration? Until you have details, please don’t waste the newspaper space.

  3. Student

    This is a viewpoint, as in from a student’s viewpoint. Yes, the library does have a tight budget, but would it really be so difficult to change the way you search for a book? Or even have a listing of general topics by subject heading (you know, what you think it would be under and what Library of Congress thinks it should be under). I have both gotten help in classes on how to look and asked librarians and am still lost as to how to search for a book. Also, many times it is hard to track someone down who actually knows what they’re doing. This is not a report of the type that he should have gone out and interviewed people – perhaps you should research the different types of articles there are?

  4. charlie sharpless

    Viewpoint or not, writers of opinion pieces published in a college paper that go on to effectively slander the school and library’s commitment to education have an obligation to make sure they are factually correct and not based on woefully incomplete comprehension of a topic. Everyone is responsible for their own education – that’s a main theme at college. Professors and staff can show you the way, and you will (and we all do and did) struggle to master it all. But part of learning is knowing when you know something and when you don’t. And when you don’t, you strive to learn. Choosing to blame the library is a cop out.

    As for having a “listing of general topics by subject heading “, there is a reason that doesn’t exist. It is because the “list” would be far too long for anyone to browse (what “general topics” would you file under? would they match anyone else’s?). That’s why we have the “Basic Search” with the option of searching your phrase by either keyword, subject, author, title, etc.

  5. an alumnus

    I agree that asking a reference librarian might have been a good idea, and I also think it’s fair to point out that the library might not have as many up-to-date books as Amazon has; I’m not a library expert, but I had thought that most books in libraries tended to be a little older than the ones on Amazon. There’s also no reason why the author couldn’t have tried to look up the information he wanted on Google Scholar or some other internet-based service.

    That said, I think he makes an excellent point. The author does say, “Perhaps I’m overreacting. So I couldn’t find a book about defense spending in the library. The point is, this example is endemic of a larger system of prioritization which doesn’t favor education first.”

    Exactly! That’s what I’ve thought for years. UMW spends so much money on real estate and the “student experience,” but so little on improving its academics. Yes, our academics are decent; but they could be better! We’re not exactly Princeton or Yale just yet.

    I’ve visited the W&M library (I was a non-student member for a while when I lived in Wburg), and it’s way better than the UMW library was when I was there. There are so many ways we could be improving academically, rather than buying apartments…and building “Eagle Village”…and a tennis center…and a new fitness center…and new dorms.

    Granted, I’ve been away from UMW for nearly a year now, and things could have drastically changed for the better. But I’d like to challenge someone to tell me what sweeping *academic* improvements have been made that could even come close to paralleling the non-academic improvements that have been undertaken in the past several years. The author’s broader point is that academics are not as highly prioritized as they should be.

    Maybe I’m wrong, but until someone can tell me what significant positive academic changes have been made recently, I’m going to stand by what I’ve said. This article makes a lot of sense.

  6. Tindall’s arguments are full of logical holes, and he provides no solution to any of the problems he is creating.

    Simpson is an academic library, Amazon.com is a bookstore; attempting to align the goals of both (fostering learning vs. making a profit) is nonsensical.

    Indeed, if one performs an Amazon book search for “defense spending,” sans quotes, one does receive over 10,000 results.

    However, the paper is not about “defense spending,” it is about defense spending in the United States. Furthermore, performing an Internet search on “defense spending,” whether it be on Google, Amazon, or any one of the many extensive and complimentary research databases provided by the UMW Libaries, demonstrates a fundamental lack of ability in conducting proper research.

    Doing an Amazon book search, for example, for “defense spending in the United States,” sans quotes, results in 1,697 results. These results are, by default, sorted by “relevance.” However, Amazon’s query engine does not sort these results by academic relevance, but by how relevant the result is in terms of attracting your dollar, which may explain the first result: “Soviet Defense Spending: A History of CIA Estimates, 1950-1990.”

    Shannon mentioned the 295 available results from performing a proper Library of Congress search; this would be in addition to any available material in the Inter-Library Loan program, the aforementioned complimentary access to scholarly databases, and, in Tindall’s case, any information released from the Federal Government under the Freedom of Information Act, which places all unclassified government works in the public domain, free of charge.

    Tindall’s paper is on a broad subject, with, as he states, “a huge body of literature,” to support his topic. Tindall blames “bureaucracy,” “budgetary concerns,” and “deprivation of education” on his difficulties in completing his work, and says “it shouldn’t be difficult” to find appropriate reference material, when it can be clearly and easily demonstrated that it is in fact not difficult to find such support. As stated, the UMW Libraries employ a staff of reference librarians – subject matter experts – to further assist in gathering such information.

    As an alumni, I can tell you from experience that it doesn’t get much easier than “excuse me, ma’am, can you please help me look this up?” They are compensated individuals who are glad to assist those in need.

    Tindall’s problem is not due to funding, bureaucracy, or “the deprivation of education,” it is his own ignorance – the very thing he champions against. He pledges to vigorously defend his “bulwark,” but refuses to aid in its construction.

  7. an alumnus

    Some of these comments seem a bit harsh, particularly the ones from Charlie Sharpless. Accusing the author of “slander” (actually, I think you mean libel, as slander is spoken) seems unreasonable, given that he’s not accusing the library of anything, but rather implying that they could use a better budget.

    Joe’s comment, while well-written, seems to miss the point. Tindall does implicitly offer a solution, in the title, to the problems he discusses in his article–spend more money on academics.

    Additionally, I’m not sure what to make of the claim that because Amazon cares about profit and the UMW library doesn’t that any attempt to compare the two is nonsensical. It made sense to me, although admittedly Tindall’s argument could have been stronger.

    I think what’s going on here is that the editorial is being held to viciously high standards, for the simple reason that the author has touched on a very sore spot in the UMW community. We don’t like to feel weak academically, and when someone tries to point out that there are things we could do to improve, that person gets attacked.

    Again–I’m not saying this is a brilliant editorial worthy of being printed in the New York Times or anything. I’m simply saying: 1) it made a few good points, and 2) you don’t need to tear the guy apart for not having done research on an editorial for a school newspaper.