A friend of mine went to Chifley the other day to wander through the reserve section. This would not be remotely newsworthy, if not for the fact that my friend had never used the University library book collection before during his undergraduate degree. Ever.
What makes this particularly odd? My friend is a second-year Classics student. Not just an Arts student – a Classics student, precisely the sort of person who should be spending every waking hour in the library.
Naturally this prompted me to consider: is it in fact possible to go through an entire arts degree without ever setting foot in a library? Does one really need books in the age of e-journals and Google Scholar? It’s an argument waved around for years by space-starved librarians and innovation-hungry students. No more waiting for recalled books! Access everything online in portable, spine-saving formats!
To an extent, the answer depends on your discipline. It’s easier to imagine a Sociology or Political Science student relying predominantly on journal articles or online publications for their essays. It’s considerably harder to imagine a Classics student doing the same. While there are a lot of exciting things happening in the field, it’s at a much slower pace than most other subjects. After all, everything of note happened two thousand years ago.
His refusal to visit Chifley up until this point had been largely a matter of stubbornness. Everything he needed was online, he argued: primary sources on the Perseus database, secondary sources in journals or on Wattle. He happened to own a couple of recommended texts already, but admits he has “no idea” how he managed to pass the first year Ancient Athens course. Did he have a point to prove? Or was he merely afflicted by terminal laziness, the scourge of the arts faculty?
In any case, the internet proved no match for Paul Burton’s mighty Emperors and Madmen essay. Off my friend trudged to Chifley, a guard of honour formed by curious Classics hangers-on. He was promptly befuddled by the catalogue system, but with the help of one such hanger-on he returned to the classics department triumphant, having photocopied a significant chunk of the reserve collection. Though he had failed in his attempt to avoid Chifley for the duration of his degree, he hadn’t let the library get the better of him.
Unfortunately for him, not everyone agreed.
“The short loan section doesn’t count,” chided a fellow Classicist. “Go to level three like the big kids!”