Saturday, April 30, 2011

What is a Library?

"Study to show yourself approved"--The Apostle Paul.

My spies tell me that a theological library, with which I am well acquainted, is often found with "students" gazing at their laptops. Are they writing a paper on the New Testament or theology or even philosophy? No they are not. They are watching films.

Portable communication technologies have broken down the sense of sacred space, of a dedicated environment set aside for one set of purposes. Thus, people play on cell phones in church, gaze at hand-held devices during meals (so much for conviviality), and entertain themselves in a library.

Libraries are meant to be places of study, learning, and reflection. No other such places bear so many books, magazines, journals, and the like. One goes there to be there, this sanctuary for knowledge. Or so it once was.

Now libraries have been largely leveled by a mentality, a sensibility that assumes and demands that every place is a play station. Thus, I need to adjust myself to an environment according to an historic discipline. Rather, I am the environment--one that I can endless divert through my portable toys: laptops, cell phones, and the like.

Because of this intellectually-impoverished sensibility, I banned the use of laptops in my classrooms. As a professor, I can control and audit this environment, this place for teaching and learning. Sadly, I cannot exercise this authority at the Denver Seminary library. However, responsible students may choose to police themselves.


Anonymous said...

You ban laptops in your class? You, Sir, are a Saint. Should you elect to ban iPhones, iPads, and iPods as well I shall nominate you for a Nobel Prize.

Where television dumbed society down the Internet is turning their minds to mush.

Personally I blame Microsoft for making an idiot proof operating system and Walmart for lowering the prices to where it is possible for any fool to get online ... and all too often fools do.

Anonymous said...

I learned the most from my one professor in seminary who banned laptops and then required us to go home and type up the notes we took in class and submit them at the end of the semester. The repetition helped but not being distraced by email and the entire internet helped more.

Unknown said...

I certainly see your point. However, I have a bachelor's degree and I have a desire to get an MDiv someday at seminary. I would hope to have my laptop with Logos Bible Software on it in class in order to take notes. I am in my early 40's. So it's not a matter of wanting social media or games during class.

Stephen said...

Phones at church, games during dinners, and browsing during class time are all activities which may be lamented, but I don't understand your feelings against using a public library for personal means, unless perhaps there is a high demand for seats and you cannot access the shelves due to all the movie watchers! Something close to this I might have experienced at my large undergrad (the bottom floor was designed for many small study groups to meet at once but it was mostly a social club) but I highly doubt any theological library at a seminary is buzzing so; the laptop viewers probably go there for the same environment you go there for: a quiet one with few distractions (and no, their screen does not distract you).

I didn't know seminaries were in the business of creating "sanctuaries" of knowledge, sacred spaces. A library is a convenient building to house books and articles which are truly invaluable for education, but why must it be exalted so that the only personal activities that can occur there are the ones you deem appropriate?

That said, your controlling of the classroom environment is likely very admirable. A classroom does have a specific purpose, that of the professor and student interacting for the maturation and betterment of the student, and while computers can sometimes aid this interaction, often they do not.

TwistTim said...

I do not agree with the banishment of laptops from the classroom, as persons such as myself, who have a learning disability that prevents us from writing and keeping up with other students, if you allow a voice recording device, it might be okay.

however, I do agree that phones, laptops, and libraries are a bad mix.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...


The exception is those with learning disabilities. I should have mentioned that.


Lin said...

Does anyone remember the days of the periodical research? Those green books that we had to delve into to find the resource? Then we had to find the periodical. And how many times did it not help? We had to dig deeper! this could take days, weeks.

But I learned a lot doing that. Not only with the process but by reading so much and making connections, deciding what was relevant and what wasn't. etc.

I now, of course, use google like everyone else but the process of research became a skill that I am forever grateful for incurring. Now, students cannot find anything unless it pops up on their search engine.

Anonymous said...

At last! Someone who has spoken out about this. I have taught in a seminary for 20 years and with laptops now in class I am not sure if students are even listening half the time. Their work does not reflect a higher level of research thanks to access to the internet in class. Texting on an iphone is passed off as looking up a passage on their e-bible.
Suggesting to ban laptops in my class would cause an uproar among my teaching colleagues who are convinced students are busy on the internet delving deeper into the topic or busy taking copious notes. I'm pretty sure most of them are updating their Facebook profile.
The sheer physical presence of a raised laptop lid between me and the students sends a message. The medium is the message.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...


I had good spies telling me what the students were doing. I could not abide that. The classroom should be a sanctuary for learning, not a den of diversion. Thank God our Dean lets us decide how to run our classrooms.

I wrote an essay on this called "Banning Laptops from the Classroom" for The Teaching Professor about a year ago. It may be on this blog somewhere, too.

Scott D. Mckenzie said...

soo true - i can't say it's a bad idea.
Perhaps to keep up w note writing, some help/tips on how to write short-hand is in order?

Blake Walter said...

Of course, the activity on a student's laptop is only an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual condition. Just because someone is not tapping away on a laptop does not mean that they are engaged in the class. As an Anglican and a theological librarian, I am committed to the idea of sacred space, but I do think it applies more to church than to research. (Ecclesiastes has a few things to say on this.) Yes, there should be quiet space in any library, but the majority of the use and activity in academic library buildings these days (those libraries fortunate enough to still be visited by students) will involve a mixture of the old and the new. Part of my job is to provide for both the old and the new ways of doing research.