June 2, 2005

Requiem for The Benz

Having let the entire month of May go by without a posting, I guess I am officially a slacker as a blogger. Oh well.

Anyway . . .

I made a very sad, if somewhat belated discovery today while doing some poking around the University of Michigan's web site. The residence hall libraries, a unique and wonderful feature of University of Michigan residence halls, have been eliminated. The Benz is no more.

I did my Masters in Libary and Information Studies at UM. During the period I was student there, in the mid-1990s, the university featured libraries in each of its 10 residence halls. The residence hall libraries were each supervised by a School of Information and Library Studies graduate student known as a "residence hall head librarian," or as we called them at that acronym-happy place, "HLs." During my two years at Michigan, I was the HL for the East Quad Residence Hall. Its Benzinger Library, more familiarly known as "The Benz," was founded in the 1950s and named after a student, Charles H. Benzinger, who died in an accident.

Like the other HLs, I had an apartment in the residence hall and received room and board, plus a small stipend in exchange for approximately 30 hours a week of work. My responsibilities were wide-ranging, including hiring, training, and supervising student workers to staff the library; selection, purchase, and cataloging of material for the collection; reference service; and other administrative tasks. I managed a budget of over $25,000 per year and gained invaluable practical experience to compliment my classroom studies.

The Benz functioned as one of the major social hubs of East Quad. Students studied at the large tables, relaxed with a magazine or newspaper in one of the many comfy armchairs and couches, checked out videos and CDs, attended special lectures and programs, even used the sizeable book collection once in a while. Working as a library assistant in the Benz was considered a plum job, and many of the staff stuck with it throughout their undergraduate careers, even after moving out of the dorm.

So what I discovered is that over the course of the last year, all of the residence hall libraries were converted into something called "Community Learning Centers." The circulating collections were sold off, and the staff eliminated. Basically, they are glorified study halls. Aparently, this unique program is no longer considered so valuable by the University of Michigan.

My disappointment with this development is lightened somewhat by the response of a few determined East Quad residents. East Quad being the home of the University's Residential College (a small liberal arts college within the larger university), it tended to attract some of the more, shall we say, "bohemian" and independent-minded students. Not surprisingly, these folks weren't about to accept the destruction of their beloved Benz lying down. Apparently, they formed an organization called the Benzinger Library Cooperative and embarked on a bit of guerrilla librarianship. They started assembling their own lending library, consisting, as of last Spring, of a burned CD of Parliament’s Greatest Hits, an old TV Family Classics tape of The Waltons, some second-hand magazines, and a porno movie called "C3P-HOE."

I'm not sure what became of the effort; the last news of it I could find online dates from March. But more power to 'em! Maybe I've finally found a worthy home for the family collection of the last 35 years of National Geographic . . .

Posted by ldfs at 3:58 PM