University Senate : Students, members debate book removal program

Bird Library’s plan to move books to an off-campus storage facility has become a ‘lightning rod’ issue on campus. More than 200 students and faculty packed Maxwell Auditorium for Wednesday’s University Senate session to debate it.

Some sat on the floor in aisles and stood in doorways, discussing financial matters and the role of the library for almost an hour and a half.

Eric Spina, vice chancellor and provost of Syracuse University, led the session. Chancellor Nancy Cantor, who typically presides over the meetings, was out of town for a memorial service for William Safire, Spina said. Spina acknowledged that there has been a lot of discussion about the issue, and threw his support behind Suzanne Thorin, SU’s dean of libraries.

Thorin acknowledged that more than 50 percent of the books to be moved are used by the humanities department and said it isn’t fair for the burden of moving books off campus to be shouldered by one discipline.

‘I also recognize the key faculty scholars in the humanities and elsewhere in the university who have felt marginalized, given the impact of the proposals to begin utilizing off-site storage,’ Spina said. ‘I certainly apologize for any unintended anguish or hurt that has been caused.’

The humanities department submitted a petition, signed by 101 faculty members, Oct. 26 ‘to plead for a change – indeed, a reversal – in policies regarding the library.’

The library expects to move 100,000 books each year for the next 10 years to a facility in Patterson, N.Y. If the books are requested by 2 p.m. during the week, they’ll be shipped to campus and available the next business day.

Faculty have been justifiably upset with the prospect of losing major pieces of their ‘working laboratory,’ Thorin said, since SU doesn’t have nearly as large a print collection as other major American research institutions.

The university is attempting to balance the increasingly diverse demands for space and services, Thorin said, especially because some subjects have transitioned to online resources, while others still rely on printed books.

‘It’s a matter of balance and of reasoned discussion and choices,’ Thorin said. ‘I think like you do, and I think like an administrator, and then I look at a budget.’

This week, the university secured space in Bird to accommodate some growth over the next year. The library pledged to work with science faculty to build more online resources for that department, which Thorin hopes will clear up space for books used by other departments, she said.

A written report by Ian Gallacher, chair of the Senate Library Committee, states that the shelves at Bird are 98 percent full, and book storage space at SU’s other facilities is 100 percent full. Acceptable library standards suggest shelves be 75 to 80 percent full to be functional, Gallacher wrote.

‘It’s been a quiet year for the library committee,’ Gallacher joked at the start of the session.

The report states that the removed publications include journals available online, journals that have ceased publication and books published before 2000 that have shown little to no use in the past five years.

Savanna Kemp, a junior English and textual studies and women’s studies major, has become the de facto leader of the student initiative to keep the library books on campus.

The student body was not consulted or informed about these decisions, Kemp said. Students understand the need for an external facility, Kemp said, but they have concerns about its location. The off-site library at Brown University is four miles from campus, and Yale University has 27 libraries, only one of which is not in New Haven, Conn.

‘Even Harvard’s 30-odd libraries are all well within the Cambridge/Boston area, which is curious considering they’re managing this in Boston, a thriving city that is not comprised almost entirely of vacant storefronts and empty buildings. And yet we cannot find an appropriate facility in Syracuse? We were wondering if you’ve ever been downtown,’ Kemp said to laughter and applause.

When Spina tried to cut Kemp off after three minutes and suggested perhaps other people would like to speak, members of the audience yelled, ‘Let her finish. Let her finish.’

Kemp said the library needs to be allocated more money, and that the chancellor should support remodeling a local warehouse into an off-site storage facility.

‘If the slogan ‘Scholarship in Action’ is to be anything more than an empty phrase that we hang on banners around our university, we believe the school needs to consider a community-responsible alternative to the library situation,’ Kemp finished to the longest applause of the meeting.

When Kemp ended her speech, Thorin said, ‘We agree about more money.’ The university researched more than 15 options of buying and renovating buildings downtown, Thorin said, but this was the most cost-effective option. It’s two-thirds less expensive than opening a more local facility, Thorin said.

Ed Mooney, a professor of philosophy and religion, said he thinks the meeting made some progress. He said the administration seems willing to understand the faculty perspective, although he doesn’t think it has reached the right solution yet.

‘It’s still very vague and very much up in the air,’ Mooney said. ‘And I think the major question is whether students and faculty will walk into a library and see books there.’

Charlotte Hess, associate dean for collections research and scholarly communication at SU, pleaded at the end of the discussion for support and involvement. She asked the audience to pay more attention and help get more money for the library.

‘These are really complex problems,’ Hess said. ‘We really care about this university and about learning and scholarship. It really, really matters. So don’t leave this room and have your voices calm down and then you just kind of forget about being involved. Create some teams, we’ll meet with you.’

Other items on the senate agenda included:

oSpina reported that 30 people meet weekly to discuss SU’s faculty and staff benefits as part of the working group set up earlier this semester. Any benefit changes will be rolled out in three phases starting in July 2010.

oApproving added and dropped courses.

oA closed session of the senate’s honorary degree committee.

shmelike@syr.edu

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