Thursday, November 14, 2002

He's Baaaack, OR: Still bothersome after all these years
Richard Nixon went to law school here. When he became president, they hung his portrait. When he was impeached, they took the portrait down and threw it in a closet. For years, the only trace of Trickey Dickey here was a small, black-and-white photograph of the class of '37, grouped on the steps of the old building over on the main quad, in which Nixon's face is a silver nitrate blob on the back row. The photo hangs inconspicuously on the fourth floor of the library, behind a block of study carrels.
In the early nineties, the building was renovated, and Nixon's portrait was discovered. Politics having changed, the picture was rehung, in a lobby area outside the front doors of the library. But perhaps politics, at least very locally, had not changed enough, and the portrait was loaned - basically permanently - to the Senate office building in Washington.
Now, ten years later, there is to be an event, a lecture and discussion, of Nixon's legacy and its effects on the law school. And this has inspired a student to raise a fuss to get the portrait back. He wrote an open letter to the Dean, and gave every member of the faculty a copy, and posted one on a bulletin board. He claims he has asked the Dean about the portrait, and she was evasive. He demands that the portrait be returned. He is a liberal Democrat, and cannot stand censorship of any sort. Finally, he makes the bold statement that Nixon is his brother, as a former student of this law school.
I question the student's sincerity. Last spring, the same fellow ran for student government. His platform was, simply, that his financial aid check had been late, his landlord had taken him to small claims court for not paying rent, and he was hopping mad. Believe it or not, there was another candidate with a more preposterous platform: that one was going to have escalators installed.
I didn't expect a lot to result from the open letter. But, earlier, I was walking out of the library, and in the lobby area outside were the Dean and the head of the library, standing there with their arms crossed. The Dean uncrossed her arms and gestured towards a wall, "Is it visable there?" and she turned to another wall, and again gestured, "Is it visable there?"
Further developments will be reported as they occur.

The Desk
In the public libraries I'm familiar with, the people stationed at the service desks aren't supposed to do anything. They're supposed to appear available to help people. I work in an academic library now, and a law school one at that, and it's different here. The people who are stationed at the circulation desk here are supposed to keep busy, and what they are supposed to keep busy doing is loose-leaf filing. This library has hundreds of books and sets of books which are loose-leaf binders, and the publisher occasionally sends out a release of up-dated pages, and we have to go through, take out this page, put in that page. In the case of some of the tax sets, the releases arrive a few times a week. It's a pain. Public libraries have a few things like this, and there, at least to my knowledge, it's the reference staff who do this. But not here. Oh, no. The reference staff here are too good for menial things like this, because they have not one, but two post-graduate degrees. A master's in library science, and a law degree. I'm sure this sounds like sour grapes, but it's not, I swear. For instance, out of a total of seven, only two of the reference staff here are capable of checking out a book to a patron. That's something else they're too good for.
Another difference between this place and a public library is that policy is flexible. In fact, when it comes to the faculty, policy is so flexible as to be non-existant. This library basically gives books to the faculty - to keep. When it comes to students, we're supposed to stick to the rules, but if a student wants an exception made, and the circulation staff says no, they can go run crying to the assistant director. The assistant director will come over and tell us to do whatever the student wants, because someday, the student will be a rich and famous lawyer, and they might be inclined to make a big donation to their almer mater. So administration wants the students to look back with fond memories on the library in their law school.
That's the problem with an institution which caters to the children of priviledge; eventually, the institution just caters.

Tuesday, November 12, 2002