“Time Enough at Last” – Libraries Are An Essential Service During The Lockdown

Burgess Meredith The Twilight Zone

Witness Mr. Henry Bemis, a charter member in the fraternity of dreamers. A bookish little man whose passion is the printed page, but who is conspired against by a bank president and a wife and a world full of tongue-cluckers and the unrelenting hands of a clock. But in just a moment, Mr. Bemis will enter a world without bank presidents or wives or clocks or anything else. He’ll have a world all to himself… without anyone.

The best laid plans of mice and men… and Henry Bemis… the small man in the glasses who wanted nothing but time. Henry Bemis, now just a part of a smashed landscape, just a piece of the rubble, just a fragment of what man has deeded to himself. Mr. Henry Bemis… in the Twilight Zone.

“Time Enough at Last” • The Twilight Zone • Season 1 • Episode 8 • Teleplay by Rod Serling

We now live trapped in the classic Twilight Zone episode, “Time Enough At Last”, in which a beleaguered banker has the good fortune to survive a nuclear holocaust that finally leaves him with all the time in the world to explore the treasures of a vast Library only to suffer the tragic reversal of having his eyeglasses broken making it impossible to access the written treasures at his feet.

Only instead of atomic annihilation, we face a global pandemic that has placed our libraries off limits leaving millions of citizens cooped up at home with all the time in the world to read; while countless books lay untouched under lock and key.

Thus we are all Henry Bemis, blinded not by our own nearsightedness, but by the shortsightedness of well meaning politicians who think it is essential to be able to get a candy bar at CVS that could change your wasteline, but not to be able to able to get a book at the library that could change your life.

Surely, we can safely let library patrons search the “virtual stacks”, put “local holds” on materials most important to them, and then let them stop by their local libraries to pick up the volumes or arrange a no contact delivery of the reading material.

From that point on, the readers could hang onto the materials at home along with all the other unreturned materials already in circulation.

The cost of such a program would no doubt be more than offset by the self-education and mental health benefits of having something to read during the lockdown.

Even if only one life might be saved by indirectly preventing a desperation driven act of suicide or domestic violence, can we really afford to say that Libraries Aren’t Essential?

An Alma Alma Mater

As back to school season swings into full gear those of us who have long since completed our terminal degrees find our inboxes decorated with alumni association emails touting impending homecoming weekends and alumni events. Almost invariably these missives focus on opportunities to meet up at bars or attend sporting events, preceded or followed by an urge to “give back” by writing a fat check to one’s alma mater.

Some enlightened schools make a weak attempt to recruit their alumni to offer mentoring to current students or to encourage them to hire the next generation of their graduates. If one is particularly fortunate one’s alma mater might actually offer one or two academically oriented speakers at an event before asking for donations over hors d’oeuvres and of course DRINKS. But sadly, Alumni culture always seems to circle back to SPORTS, DRINKS , and DONATIONS.

The truth of the matter is that the big schools are just playing the numbers to maximize donations. One is lucky to find perhaps 14% of the student body dedicated to the love of learning for its intrinsic value.

Only this tiny core have a true sense of “my research” that makes them look beyond the mandates of the syllabus for ways to integrate different treads of knowledge and to bring that learning to bear in creative ways outside the lecture hall.

There is but a scant 14% imbued with The Academic Sublime — that sense of awe and wonder over the Ideal of the University as a force sustaining Civilization through the ages. This is the chill that goes up one’s spine setting foot on campus as one is overtaken by an awareness of the boundless potential of the Future. It is the Academic Sublime that gives rise to a soul sustaining optimism despite the sorry state of today’s Universities with their all too often watered down academics, party cultures, toxic political correctness, and ceaseless assaults on academic freedom.

Beyond the 14% there is a wide band of mediocre to good students who aren’t necessarily averse to learning, as long as it doesn’t clash with their politics or get in the way of their social lives. There is also a significant number who see college as a speed bump in the way of taking a position with friends or family, or who quite honestly just want to party.

Since, in aggregate, they don’t care about academics, but do represent the biggest slice of the donor pie, it makes sense to focus on offering them bread and circuses in the form of sports teams and alumni bar nights and booze cruises.

What this doesn’t do is provide the lost 14% with a way to continue to participate in the Intellectual Life of their Alma Mater. Only a tiny fraction of them will have found a birth as faculty at some other institution of higher education; and while the rest can participate in professional societies, those tend to be overly specialized and highly compartmentalized disciplinary silos devoid of the kind of interdisciplinary cross-fertilization that makes the Campus such a special kind of space.

They represent a huge untapped resource for our Universities of the Future! They are the very individuals whom we would have recruited as students had we been founded in time for their college years and who would now be our alumni had we been fortunate enough to have instructed them. They are largely alienated from their actual alma maters, many have funds they would be loath to donate to those schools, and all have rich bodies of experience, expertise, and intellectual insights that are seen as being utterly irrelevant by the universities they attended.

We can give them a home, we can help them network and found new ventures, we can tap their knowledge, we can give them the community to take their art, science, and commerce to the next level, we can adopt them and become their Alma Alma Mater!

N.B. We will explore exactly what this concept means and how it might be formalized as a League of Extraordinary Scholars embracing both disaffected alumni and potentially unlettered independent scholars and entrepreneurs in future posts.

Dry Or Wet? — Should We Allow Alcohol On Campus?

One of the hardest decisions we will have to make is deciding what to do about alcohol consumption.

One’s initial libertarian inclination would be to follow the crowd and only opine on the undesirability of violent drunkenness, trusting our future student bodies to do the right thing. But we are also realists and recognize that college age students have an undeniable historically bad track record when it comes to making bad choices about liquor.

Some are perhaps genetically pre-disposed to alcoholism, others use drinking as a excuse to absolve themselves of responsibility for the consequences of bad decisions. In Greek Culture, drinking is all too often ingrained in rituals of individual submission to peer pressure. One drinks to prove one’s worth through the rite of getting loaded and enduring an awful hangover in the morning. In the most egregious cases students have lost their lives to actual alcohol poisoning.

It would be nice to imagine that our students will only imbibe of a sip of Sherry after a poetry reading, but the reality on most campuses is an unhealthy level of binge drinking both in the dorms and off campus bars that encourage predatory sexual dynamics by offering “Ladies Nights” to lure coeds into a hookup culture where young men ply them with drink, impairing their judgment, and trading sexual favors for free booze and the momentary emotional high of feeling desired by alpha males.

Worse still, we all know what happens afterwards, risky sex, unclear consent, spewing vomit, and the “walk of shame” home the morning after. The consequences for our young men and women are equally bad, as born out by date rape statistics in countless cases both with and without merit, in a culture that devalues women on campus, short circuits the formation of healthy dating relationships, and puts both sexes at high risk of making disastrous life altering choices.

The drinking culture also puts the non-drinker at a social networking disadvantage which can have future impacts on lifelong earnings. This suggests that it wouldn’t be sufficient to ban alcohol on campus, particularly if we contemplate a setting in which a string of bars could set up shop just outside the campus gate.

Only by providing a more desirable programmed nightlife with frequent events, better networking and dating opportunities, a superior ambiance, and high quality non-alcoholic beverages of superior flavor and lower cost than the swill of your average off campus strip can we make a dry lifestyle the preferred choice for our academic communities. In short, we want to create an environment in which getting plastered won’t be cool and in which the traditional sleazy off-campus bar scene catering to lecherous drunkards won’t be economically viable.

The Age of the Personal Bathroom Pod

We commend to your attention Cohen Quadrangle of Exeter College Oxford which has boldly adopted a system of personal bathroom “pods” which are pre-constructed off site to provide each resident with his or her own personal bathroom.

This long overdue innovation will save countless hours of time waiting for sinks, toilets, and shower stalls that have long been the bane of most residence halls. No longer will students find themselves in contention over who can use the facilities or face embarrassment from stray odors or wardrobe malfunctions.

This bold civilizing innovation will be a core element of any housing systems we adopt for our new institution.

This critical convenience be a major incentive in recruiting top students.

For an extended treatment of this topic, see The Modular Building Institute‘s monograph Saving Time With Modular Bathroom Pods.

Campus: An American Planning Tradition

As we think about a physical form for our future university there is no better text to start with than the revised paperback edition of Campus: An American Planning Tradition (ISBN: 978-0-262-70032-0).​1​

It provides a comprehensive survey of American Campus design from colonial days to the start of the ’90’s and contains many striking anecdotes along with a fascinating overview of shifting patterns of thought about the roles of culture and curriculum.

  1. 1.
    Venable Turner P. Campus: An American Planning Tradition. Mit Press; 1990.

The Great Schism — Paper, Bits, or Engrams

We are most conscious of supporting sustainability in all its forms and in light of The New York State Legislature’s bold moves to outlaw plastic bags and tax paper bags after the next election cycle, it behoves us to think about life on a paperless campus!

We were all set to get ahead of the curve and ban paper, pencils, pens, and ablative graphite removal technologies (i.e. erasers) along with calling for the installation of Three Seashells in all bathroom units.

But then we considered the electric power draw from accessing digital storage media and the electricity consumed while making hourly and daily backups — electricity which is often produced by dirty carbon spewing power plants. Clearly, computers are bad for the environment and in time politicians will get around to banning them too.

This leaves only Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 solution of memorizing our books.

All that matters must be committed to human memory.

Unfortunately this won’t leave us much time for creating new Knowledge, but Mother Nature will thank us — or not.