The Tragedy of the Commons

Previously, I blogged about efficiency in our system having a potentially racist dimension (see: Tenner, 2018). One of the consequences of the efficiency push is that libraries are under threat. There is a chance one or more campuses could not have a library and/or any librarians due to cuts. There are going to be some real serious academic and social consequences to this. In sociologist Eric Klinenberg’s Palaces for the People (2018), libraries are examples of social infrastructure – the physical places and entities that have a direct impact on how people. As Klinenberg points out: “Social infrastructures that promote efficiency tend to discourage interaction and the formation of strong ties.” (p. 18). One of the things administrators fail to understand is that libraries do many things. They are community centers, meeting spaces, places to study, and more. They provide jobs for student workers (which I had as an undergrad). They can even house coffee shops, where people get together. Libraries can be safe spaces for homeless students. This is in addition to their being hubs of academic activity for faculty, students, and the wider community.

Our administrators argue that “library services” will still exist. Yet, they have no plan of what that might mean. We cannot disconnect those “services” from the social and physical dimensions of university libraries. That includes the integral nature of librarians in providing those services. Take, for instance, the transition of libraries into “information commons” in recent years. Key here is the idea that they are “commons.” Again, they are places where students can work together, with librarians, or faculty for a variety of different projects.

In sum, the destruction of libraries in PASSHE would be a true “tragedy of the commons.”