Not the Libraries, Please!
Frankly speaking, I have never been so bitterly disappointed at this college.
I'm sure all of you know the recent hype about budget cuts in lieu of the recent economic downturn. To deal with a dearth of funds, the library system has plans to shut down Sanborn Library, put into place a "totally-digital" Feldberg Library and integrate of "distributed service sites" in Paddock, Sanborn and Sherman library.
What does this mean to you, as a student or faculty member of Dartmouth College? Some of my friends vehemently oppose this move, complaining that this time the administration may go too far. Others couldn't care less -- so what if a library goes down the drain? The fact of the matter is, it does. We are all students here, part of a college that seeks to educate us for the real world. To such an end, the libraries on campus are essential physical extrapolations of the ideas that we both cultivate and generate.
The efficiency argument makes absolutely no sense when translated into the world of academia. To be certain, the financial costs of running a library are definitely present. However, that is where the administration errs. I assert strongly that not everything -- especially an academic atmosphere of research and innovation -- can be measured in terms of dollars and cents. Measuring the inputs and outputs of the library system through a purely monetary cost-benefit paradigm is shallow and ultimately myopic.
Take the idea of converting Sanborn Library into a study space. Honestly, this is a pathetic idea. Saving money by streamlining everything into a centralized distribution system makes fiscal sense, but that shouldn't be touted as a reason for possibly closing down Sanborn. I am not saying that efficiency serves no end. I agree that efficiency has a place in every sphere of human activity -- but not to the point where it has a negative effect on the goals of the organization.
Why doesn't the College just close down the multiple floors of Berry and Baker, convert them into a huge "study-space" and centralize everything into a two-lane booth where students could check-out and return books through an online system? It would be more efficient and we all would have more study spaces to "study."
Libraries exist not just to store books; they also serve to create an academic environment of self-discovery and intellectual questioning. This forms the very basis of an educational system where personal initiative is key, where one comes to view the library as not only a system of checking books in and out but also as a place where the line between the ideas and individuals are blurred. It is a dynamic place of intellectual development, not a group of chairs surrounding a table.
This is what I believe Professor Joy Kenseth of the Art History department was hinting at when she said in response to the planned changes, "The identity of the art history department is inseparable from the Sherman Library. The imposed cuts will impinge dramatically on our ability to teach our subject. For us, Sherman Library is our laboratory." Indeed, the library should embody a free-flowing laboratory of ideas. The administration should be fixated on recognizing this, as opposed to just saving money at all costs.
For Sherman, the recommendations include moving the reserve shelf down to Baker and having a part-time art librarian. The art library collection is difficult to navigate, and needs a librarian to help students overcome its obstacles. It would be more inefficient to have a part-time art librarian shuffle between Baker and Sherman to aid students.
The plan to lock the door between Sherman and Carpenter at 5 p.m. everyday also goes against the ideal of student-faculty interaction. From what I understand, students working in Sherman in the evening often drop by the art history offices to see if their professors are there. This is what the Student Life Initiative trumpets and yet again we see contradictory proposals and self-defeating maneuvers to the contrary.
If we don't start listening to our professors, then where can Dartmouth go but down?
I like going into a library knowing that I'll find books there among the shelves.What I most like is finding the book I want, but finding another book next to it (or on the opposite shelf, for that matter) that is even more fascinating that the book I was originally seeking.
At a recent faculty-president meeting English Department Chair Peter Travis said, "One of our most important institutions that defines the College is the library." I totally agree with his statement. Libraries are essential to preserving the sense of intellectualism at an institution of higher learning. Dartmouth College could be considered as worthy of being designated as such an institution, do you not agree?
I can only pray that the administration responds to the appeals of students and faculty. I hope the administration does not send Dartmouth down a slippery slope from which there is no recovery. Regret, then, would be too late.