SMITH: Listen and act on student library concerns

The University neglects student wishes in order to put forth its idealized library vision

Alderman

Alderman Library is on track to undergo a major multimillion dollar renovation. 

Andrew Walsh | Cavalier Daily

The Alderman Library renovations reveal the rub between long term administrative goals and student wishes. While proponents of the proposed changes laud the opportunity for expanded study space, seminar rooms and a streamlined corridor throughout the whole of stacks, students have expressed worry about the changes affecting the library’s main purpose — housing books. Under the current plan for renovations, more than a million books will leave Alderman’s browsable shelves during renovations to a closed stack facility on Ivy. Upon completion, the total capacity of Alderman Library will be significantly reduced.

This proposal to remove a substantial amount of books from shelves has been met with strong resistance from the University’s community, yet the Board of Visitors still plans to proceed with their original plans as of last week. The Board of Visitors’ decision to overlook students concerns continues a troubling trend of paying lip service to their concerns, without following through on students’ actionable suggestions for the renovation. Given the close connection between libraries and students, the Board of Visitors’ conclusion to override student opinions in favor of their personal goals demonstrates their failure to make appropriate decisions for the University community.

In some respects, the renovation must continue as planned. As University Architect Alice Raucher stated, “both Old Stacks, built in 1938, and New Stacks, added in 1967, are both badly out of code,” leading to genuine safety concerns. Some of these structural issues have already presented themselves — two floods have occured in stacks just last spring. Even more concerningly, the dean of libraries, John Unsworth expressed that Alderman is so out of code that the building is at risk for “an electrical fire.” All plans to make Alderman more structurally sound and safer for students should absolutely continue.

However, not all the proposed plans to Alderman simply have to do with improving safety. As the renovation designs suggest, Alderman’s redesign has a lot to do with adding to the University’s brand and status. As Raucher’s comments indicate,  “You could use the building as a beacon” of people driving south. The University very much is in the business of establishing itself against other flagship public universities through lofty gestures.

Pressure to upgrade appears innocuous or even beneficial for the future of the University. But in this situation, the University administration's wishes to compete in this amenity race directly conflict with student goals for library spaces. As evidenced by the petition created before the open forums hosted by HBRA, the architectural firm tasked with renovations, thoughts voiced during the open forums and an earlier opinion column condemning the plan, the University community passionately disagrees with the proposed elimination of shelving. 

Nevertheless, the administration has chosen to ignore these community concerns and proceed with contentious renovations. Here lies the ultimate issue of the University — in preparing to sway future students to enroll at the University, current enrolled students and community members have their wishes ignored. 

The renovation absolutely needs to occur, given the extensive hazards existing within the current framework of the library. However, it’s disappointing to see the University once again snub student and community concerns for broader administrative goals. Ultimately, libraries are at the heart of the student experience. The Rotunda, as the original library and crown jewel of the University, cements that long history. Because of this historic and intimate relationship between students and libraries, student concerns should be taken seriously instead of subjected to sham focus groups and measures that provide the facade of undergraduate input, while the administration gets the final word. 

During finals and graduation, Alderman Library’s Facebook page posted a special tribute to former Cavalier Daily Life writer, Sean Rumage, for “perfect attendance” at the library and well wishes on his graduation. These types of inner student-library relationships showcase the best of the library system, focused on the student. The University should know better than to turn a deaf ear to the demands of students and faculty when it comes to the library system. It’s time for the University to first listen to students, or better yet, reverse the Alderman decision.

Katherine Smith is a Senior Opinion Columnist at The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at opinion@cavalierdaily.com.

CORRECTION: This article misstated the location and capacity of Alderman Library during renovations. The article has been modified to reflect the correct amount and location of books currently housed in Alderman Library. 

CORRECTION: This article misstated that the petition voicing concern for the renovations was circulated after the open forums. The article has been modified to reflect the correct timing of the petition, which was circulated before the open forums. 

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