Higher education = Big Brother?


It has occurred to me that there are disturbing parallels between my work in the Library of Doom and the world of so-called ‘reality’ television. Both provide a vital social service, but the populace at large is probably blissfully unaware of this. We keep strange people out of the workforce and off the streets for a period of time, contributing to the overall sanity of the nation.

I do not watch reality shows very often, but it is sometimes unavoidable due to friends, relatives and housemates who devour them greedily, thrilling to the exploits of the publicity-hungry folks these shows tend to attract. Increasingly, the cast list of these shows (I’m looking at you, Big Brother) largely consists of strange, unpleasant people who I’m very glad I’ll never have to meet. For anything up to three months, these people are locked away in a secure environment, meaning that their interesting social skills are only inflicted on a dozen or so people. Thankfully, it seems that the British public decides en masse that nice people should win these shows as often as possible. And also, I have to admit (grudgingly, mind you) that Big Brother has probably done wonders for tolerance, acceptance and inclusion, in that the past winners have included a gay man, a male-to-female transsexual, a working class chappie and even, of all things, a practicing Christian.

Higher education performs many roles, but at least where I work, it fulfils the same vital function as reality TV. I see disturbing numbers of people every day with bafflingly low levels of knowledge, intelligence and common sense, people who surely could not function in the workplace. For three years, or possibly more, we shield society from these people and attempt to teach them the skills they’ll need to survive. We try to show them how to think for themselves, demonstrate how to interact in polite society and force them to fend for themselves without mummy or daddy to cook, wash and clean for them. “How long can you borrow a 7-day loan for?”  “Have you got any photographs of the Great Fire of London?” And of course the brick wall people, who make you feel like you’re either talking to or bashing your head against said edifice. Don’t you feel glad that the valiant staff of higher education institutions are keeping these people away from the rest of the world and at least attempting to turn them into functional members of society?

Maybe the analogy’s not valid, but it struck me recently, so I thought I may as well share it.

  1. You sound like you really really really need some ice-cream.

  2. Oh dear, is my crazy gene manifesting itself again? I have no ice cream. 😦

  3. My Library of Glum belongs to an institute of higher education for the working and/or mature student, so we don’t get the half-witted adolescents who couldn’t find a washing-machine in a washing-machine shop. Technically our lot are already functional members of society.

    Doesn’t stop them being breathtakingly rude and stupid when they try.

    Today’s anxst was more bureaucratic though. The Overlords of Glum have elected to do a grand new redesign of the entrance area. We will be losing acres of shelving. The Overlords have only just noticed this. The Overlords are trying to expand the Library’s collections at the moment, as various lecturers and students have pointed out we’re a little lacking in key texts here and there. Hmm. Expand collection onto somehow fewer shelves? Not entirely physically possible, you say? Ah, well. Style and substance are currently battling it out in the Overlord’s office. Me, I came straight home and put head in freezer. No ice-cream. Why doesn’t ice-cream know when it is needed and miraculously manifest itself? Universe so unfair.

    • Claire
    • June 8th, 2006

    Mmm ice-cream. I thought about buying some today. I quite like your analogy. It certainly feels like we’re working in the Big Brother house sometimes. But at least we can go home at the end of the day and are not actually locked in with them! That would be bad. Meanwhile my blog is ill. ) =

  4. Bureaucratic problems, Ag? We have those at the Library of Doom as well. The theoretical physics of libraries are so interesting, aren’t they? The way that 100,000 books are somehow supposed to squeeze onto shelves built for 75.000. Meanwhile, the students’ reading lists cover 125.000 books. Grrr.

    Claire, if we were locked in with the students, I suspect the commentary would run something like this:

    Day three in the Big Brother library. The library assistants have bludgeoned most of the students to death with an out of date set of encyclopaedias. The rest of the students have barricaded themselves in the quiet study room behind a wall of trolleys…

    • Claire
    • June 10th, 2006

    Hee hee!! Nice images forming in my mind…. ( =

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