Monday, 30 March 2015

Clare Goes on a Bitchy Rant

My first non-librarian/KM conference is finally over. My experience was mixed; I'm returning with a phone full of Evernotes and a head overflowing with as yet jumbled ideas. I've not really assessed the learning yet because it's rather daunting and I've no clue where to start. But never have I encountered such cliquey unfriendliness, and in some cases pure discouraging rudeness.

Academia has a problem. You only have to regularly read the Times Higher Ed and realise that the humming halls of learning disguise a bearpit of competition, backstabbing and secrecy. I'm an outsider in this world, just standing on tiptoes looking in, like a child at a window listening to warring parents. And I've no wish to join this dysfunctional family in a professional capacity. My library training and natural inclination is for openness, collaboration, and making room for new ideas from external influences and as such, I'm clearly unwelcome.
Anyway as a result of this visit, Berlin is now on my list of favourite European places in which to feel at home. From the tiny coffee shop opposite the Mongolian Embassy, the little square 'Marion-Gräfin-Dönhoff-Platz, and the quiet 5th floor at the Humboldt Universität, they were wonderful places to sit and be.
I did take a stroll around Museums-Insel this morning and was staggered by not only the monumental nature of the architecture, but the epic scale of the new buildings. I was slightly prepared; Horst Bredekamp in his talk last night emphasised Berlin as Florence, and the myriad philosophical, historical and artistic links between the two cities. He embraced both the light and the dark, the destruction and the resurrection, and the past, present and future of the city.
The Humboldt-Forum which is currently under construction, is almost entirely modelled on the quiet Renaissance architecture of the Medici. A Uffizi courtyard, a San Lorenzo entrance is included. As he showed us the plans, inspiration and actualite side by side, I felt a vague disquiet on many levels. The cost must be huge, and though I'm in favour of the support of the arts, what cost for the economy and the populous at large? Just as I'm uneasy about yet another London concert hall, perhaps support for what we have, rather than vast capital projects to soak up future budgets?
Also as Bredekamp argued passionately and comprehensively, connections to Florence are indeed multifarious. The passion for the Renaissance is palpable - as demonstrated by this huge conference - but the emerging architectural conceit is too much to bear. Already you can see the arches and corridors in the concrete shell. But the fact remains, if I want Renaissance architecture, I'll go to the original source, not a modern behemoth.
Perhaps Berlin's building, academia and the Renaissance Society of America are all suffering from the same malaise. The root cause is the generation of cash. Berlin is clearly investing heavily, with one eye on a bright future; the RSA is hugely successful with a growing membership and a healthy bank balance. Whilst academia sees itself languishing without funds and opportunities, I don't think the worldwide future of higher ed has ever been so bright. Controversial, I know but knowledge and scholarship has never been so commercial. But somehow the veneer of success hides a strange insecurity which feeds manifests itself by an unwillingness to look to the future.
Berlin needs to rediscover and embrace pride in its Germanness, without fear of accusations of nationalism; the RSA needs to continue with its diversity baby steps without being handicapped by its size; and academia should just check its privilege, and individual academics should accept that the rest of the world couldn't give a monkey's about their petty jealousies. All of us are chasing careers in our own fields of expertise. And most of us are doing it graciously and kindly, offering new comers advice and encouragement. 

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