Sep 16 2009
ETA: As of May 2010, a year later, we still are uncertain if we’re actually going to close or not. Stay tuned, I guess.
A few weeks ago, a bit before I left to go to Argentina, we learned officially (we’d known informally for a few months) that the library I work in — the Physical Sciences and Engineering Library — will be closing by July 2011 at the latest, and probably sooner than that, perhaps next summer. We will be shuttering our four-story, heavily used building and moving our collections and people into the third floor of the main library, a five minute walk away. To make room for us, another science department — the biological and agricultural sciences collection — is moving out, and into another branch library (the health sciences library), which is on the other side of campus. We don’t have much of a plan beyond that yet.
This is due to our large and impending budget cuts, which are affecting every department of our public university in this bankrupt state. But this particular implementation — a double move won’t be cheap, and there were complicated negotiations among upper management (involving fewer cuts now to buy time, in exchange for a building) to make it happen — this is not due entirely to budget cuts, but also to a certain sense of wanting to consolidate. The health sciences library gets less traffic than we do, and they are far from central campus, but nonetheless we drew the short straw. Not very many people are happy about the move; certainly none of the affected librarians and none of the faculty I’ve talked to. It’s hard to say if the decision makes any sense. (Even our AUL says as much, stating that it’s a gamble). On the other hand, we seem to have escaped layoffs for the moment because of all this, and this is a good thing.
For my department, we lose our separate building, which has provided both a convenient home for our work (we are across the street from most of our departments) and a sense of identity, and we gain the anxiousness of not knowing what’s going on, the demoralization and malaise that comes from having major decisions made for you, and concerns about being able to provide our services. (But we still have jobs, and that’s more than many people can say in this economy; think good thoughts about the Philadelphia libraries).
The question of whether to consolidate academic libraries or not is one that has plagued many campuses for years — many of you have no doubt been through such consolidations. For many decades in the mid-part of this century, building specialized branch libraries was in vogue (before that, grand central libraries and departmental collections seems to have been the norm). But starting in the ’90s and continuing to the present, in this era of everything-online and library as social space and less and less money for more and more expensive resources, the trend has been towards consolidation and back to grand central libraries, it seems.
It’s a little hard to say what works best. I have only worked in branch libraries in my career in academic libraries (this is my third), and I certainly enjoy them — I like the collegiality and the extra service that we often provide in branches, because they are small enough that you can bend the rules as appropriate. I enjoy the sense of knowing everything there is to know about the collection. I enjoy having ‘regulars.’ I enjoy the bonding that comes from being in a separate department, and being able to walk across campus to meetings… and being able to walk away.
The next year will be filled with lots of weeding, lots of long and desperately painful meetings, figuring out where everything is going to go, figuring out how to move, and then actually moving. I’ll lose my office (with a door!) and gain a cube; we’ll all — the librarians, the science students, the faculty — lose our building. I don’t know what we’ll gain yet.
So that is what is going on with me right now.
(here’s our campus paper’s story. None of the librarians except our head were asked to comment, I believe).
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