Students, faculty pressure College to keep Kresge, Paddock libraries open
Students and faculty voiced their concerns with the decision and its impacts on learning and research.
In the wake of the College’s Feb. 16 announcement that Kresge Physical Sciences Library and Paddock Music Library will permanently close at the end of the academic year, students, faculty and staff have pushed back on the decision, citing impacts on accessibility to collections and the lack of input solicited in the process.
On Feb. 22, music department chair William Cheng penned an open letter titled “Illiberal Tyranny at a Liberal Arts College,” criticizing the College’s “ambush strategy” of closing Paddock Library before notifying faculty. The letter is included in a document soliciting testimonials from Dartmouth community members on their experiences with Paddock’s space and resources. As of Thursday, the document is over 120 pages long and contains over 150 testimonials from music majors, non-music majors, graduate students, professors, previous library staff, alumni and more.
Physics and astronomy professor Robert Caldwell has also invited community members to share their stories and testimonials with Kresge’s space in a growing 23-page document. Earth sciences chair Robert Hawley started a similar document for alumni.
In his open letter, Cheng wrote that he learned of Paddock’s closure the morning after the announcement was made to campus. Hawley noted that he received the news from one of the head librarians “maybe six hours” before the information was released publicly and that he was “definitely not consulted in any way.”
“I was shocked and dismayed, and I was sort of trying to figure out how to react to myself and therefore how to break the news to my department,” Hawley said.
According to the College, the decision stemmed from a structural financial deficit that existed before the COVID-19 pandemic. Chemistry department chair Dean Wilcox echoed that the College is in a “dire financial situation.”
“COVID is less of an issue than this systemic infrastructure problem that Dartmouth is facing right now,” Wilcox said. “It’s kind of a unique situation that we got ourselves into, and we have to figure out how to work our way out of it, so I understood that the libraries were going to have to make some cuts.”
According to Dean of Libraries Sue Mehrer, the libraries have undergone significant budget cuts over the past five years with equally significant declines in overall staffing. There has been a 35% decrease in the circulation of materials in the library system overall from 2008 to 2018.
Mehrer noted that the decision to close Kresge and Paddock was made after consulting with Provost Joseph Helble. In an email statement to The Dartmouth, Mehrer wrote that she also held meetings with Dean of Faculty Elizabeth Smith, associate dean for the sciences Daniel Rockmore, dean of the Guarini School of Advanced Studies Jon Kull, associate dean for the arts and humanities Samuel Levey and relevant library department heads to discuss the intentions, financial challenges and trends that came together to inform the decision.
The College has stated that it plans to integrate Paddock and Kresge staff members into Baker-Berry Library operations, though the student employment budget will be dissolved, and the new location of STEM and physical science collections within Baker-Berry is yet to be decided.
Mehrer wrote that the College has begun the process of meeting with departments and working through how the spaces will be used, how the collections will be managed and how the library services will be offered. High-use material from the Kresge and Paddock collections will be relocated to Baker-Berry Library in the coming months, and the rest of the libraries’ collections will be stored in the off-site shelving facility in Lebanon. Materials will be available by request.
According to Hawley, there are two primary problems with the announced library closures — first, students and faculty will lose physical library spaces essential to their scholarship, and second, there was seemingly no “decision-making process” that involved faculty.
Given the significant portion of time faculty spend participating in various committees and councils to advise the College, Hawley attributes much of the “disenfranchisement” to the lack of communication from the administration.
“Most of us were pretty upset that such a big decision with so much impact on a lot of our departments could be simply made in absence of any discussion with the stakeholders,” Hawley said.
Wilcox said he recently spoke with Mehrer at a meeting of the Committee on Priorities and communicated to her that the situation was “not handled very well,” and that she should have consulted with the relevant departments.
Staff members have indicated being similarly blindsided by the announcement. Access and collections specialist Craig Pallett, who has worked in Paddock Library for the past three years, said he was informed of the closure on the day of the announcement.
Based on prior struggles to develop a 10-year plan for the future of the library, Pallett said that while he could see Paddock’s closure as a logical step taken to cut costs, he was still “very surprised” to hear the news.
“Whoever came to this decision not to inform the chairs of the departments. … I can see where that’s led to a lot of discontent,” Pallett said.
Head of research and learning for STEM, business and economics Jane Quigley said the news was not a “total shock” for her, as the closures had been “discussed as a possibility … for some time toward the middle or late part of last year.”
“One thing that I think is important to acknowledge … is that this is a hard decision,” Quigley said. “It’s really painful and I do feel some regret, but the important things are … the purpose of the library to support research by providing the access to the resources, the access to the people, the librarians, and the staff who can support and help and serve — and we will continue to do that.”
Alongside reactions from staff, many students have voiced discontent with the decision.
Music major Zack Olsen ’21 was the first to contribute to the Paddock document upon receiving the email from Cheng. Calling Paddock library an “escape from the intense city of Baker-Berry Library,” Olsen echoed Cheng’s sentiment of a misunderstanding of actual usage patterns of Paddock’s resources.
“They have these big, complete work editions of all the famous composers, like hundreds of scores that are very big and unwieldy,” Olsen said.
He added that simply examining the circulation numbers of these scores would be inaccurate, as he believes they are used “very frequently” by students working within the library, and it would prove “very inconvenient” to move them to an off-site location due to their size.
Music major Virginia Wei ’22 said she contributed to the Paddock document “almost right away” after receiving an email from her music professor. Wei said she was touched to hear the variety of testimonials from people beyond her professors and fellow students.
“It was so clear to me how impactful our little library in the Hopkins Center is to campus culture in general,” Wei said.
As testimonials continue to pour in, students and community members alike have rallied for the College to reassess its priorities.
“It sends a bad message about what Dartmouth values as an institution,” Olsen said. “They’re going to miss out on students who are interested in the arts because of this and faculty members too. … It’s going to have a lot of negative repercussions in terms of the academic reputation of these departments.”