national library week: save a thriving community!

12Apr10

This morning I made a casual announcement on my Facebook page reminding my friends that it’s National Library Week.  Of course, this means that you should be sure to visit your local public, academic, school, or special library to check out all the great things it has to offer.  You might even discover why I put up such a fight when someone mentions shushing to me!  If you already visit libraries regularly, go you!  We’re celebrating you, too.

Shortly after my post, a friend of mine responded with a plea to put out a librarian APB, and I wouldn’t be upholding the ethical code of my profession if I didn’t act immediately.  My friend introduced me to a wonderful resource at the University of Rochester that he and many others regularly use for academic and personal research.  The Physics-Optics-Astronomy Library, part of U of R’s River Campus Library System, offers science enthusiasts and scholars like my friend access to lots of specialized research information in those related fields.  I’ve never been there, but it seems to be an asset to the university that students and faculty regularly take advantage of.

From what I can tell, the POA Library closely follows the traditional library model.  There are a few computer workstations and access to a printer, but the focus of this library is on reference materials, bound periodicals, and electronic journals.  There may not be a coffee bar, gaming station, or iPod loans, but those things aren’t what its patrons are after.

The reason why my friend pointed this out to me is that the POA Library is slated to be renovated to include a digital work environment catered to the needs of engineering students.  The existing collection will be moved to various places, including an off-site storage facility.  A small portion of the POA Library space will be reserved as a study area for the students and faculty it currently serves, but the collection will be separate from this space.

So, really, what does this have to do with National Library Week?  Well, this year’s theme is  “communities thrive @ your library.”  It appears to me that patrons of the POA Library are one heck of a community of students and faculty dedicated to these science disciplines, and the proposed changes will create a disjointed library experience for these folks, thus eliminating the communal aspect of the POA Library.

I don’t have much information from the librarian side of this argument, other than a memo that includes a short proposal, so I am obligated to tell you that I might not have the full story here.  Whether or not that is the case, the POA Library does a great job of meeting the needs of the community it serves, and the proposed changes may detract from that effectiveness.  If the library space must be altered, it seems as though the University of Rochester can take greater consideration to maintaining the unity of the collection and its users.

I’m not here to slander the good name of University of Rochester libraries.  To the contrary- U of R has a ridiculously impressive library system that serves an incredibly diverse group of patrons.  My limited experience with the institution’s libraries has been overwhelmingly positive, and I would hate to see that change for such a devoted group of science scholars.  I welcome any comments that include more information from both sides, and really hope that all parties involved can reach a solution that benefits everyone.

To learn more about the POA Library changes and/or to join the movement, stop by the group’s Facebook page.  From there, you can learn what the story is and who you can contact to voice your opinion.

Special thanks to Rich, for pointing this out to me.  Good luck with your efforts!

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5 Responses to “national library week: save a thriving community!”

  1. 1 Susan Gibbons

    Karen:
    The proposal to close the POA Library in order to create an engineering computer classroom is not a decision of the University of Rochester Libraries. This is a case where the library is a tenant of the College. Our short proposal focuses only on how we could best mitigate the harm of closing POA based on the resources available to us; recognizing that there are many essential elements of the POA library that simply cannot be moved or reconstituted elsewhere. The reactions of the faculty and students to the potential closure of POA has beautifully articulated what we already knew; a library is far, far more than a room with books.

    Susan Gibbons
    Vice Provost & Dean
    River Campus Libraries
    University of Rochester

  2. 2 karenthelibrarian

    Thanks so much for your contribution, Ms. Gibbons! I very much appreciate hearing the library’s perspective. One thing that I’ve learned from all the libraries I have worked with is that transitions like these are necessary and laden with difficult decisions, regardless of the institution’s size, budget, or commitment. You are fortunate to have such a dedicated body of patrons, who not only make great use of your resources, but will vocalize their support so adamantly.

  3. 3 Dan Linford

    Hey Karen,

    I’m one of the alumni from the University of Rochester, currently working on my doctorate in physics at a different institution. However, the POA library truly is my favorite memory of undergrad. Some people remember their fraternities or their sororities, or some really awesome professor, or some other really deeply impactful college experience. For myself, the POA, the friendships I made there, and the times I spent in that room, were the most deeply meaningful part of my undergraduate years. If you’re looking for a library who’s patrons are devoutly dedicated to the institution, look no further than the POA. I really highly recommend going there if you haven’t been; it’s an experience unlike any other library experience that I’ve ever had.

  4. 4 Erin

    Great post, Karen. I am more out-of-the-loop than you with the University of Rochester situation, but I am experiencing something similar here at Millersville. We have finally come up for renovation through the state-funding procedure. What it boils down to is that we have to gut the building to bring it up to ADA compliance and renovate the whole thing. It wasn’t financially feasible to stay in the building, so all of the librarians, staff, and service points will be moved out of the building to other spaces on campus for 2 years (that’s how long construction will take). The books themselves are going into off site storage and won’t be accessible for the duration. We will have a few small collections available on campus, but we will be relying on our consortial agreements and have been ramping up our electronic content in anticipation of this.

    Needless to say, there are a lot of concerned people, mostly faculty. Part of my job as the outreach librarian is to make sure we are communicating clearly about the fact that this is all for the long-term benefit of the students and the university. It also seems to help when I remind people that we’re librarians – we obviously love books and putting them into storage is not our ideal situation.

    Anyway, I could go on and on about this, but I just noticed the similarities in situations. It’s a hard decision to have to make, but I can see (from my experience here) when it sacrifice in the short term might be necessary to achieve long term goals and sustainability.

  5. 5 Susan Gibbons

    POA Library Update- our POA Library has been saved! Over 300 letters from students and faculty, 500 Facebook supporters and many other expressions of support have saved the POA Library. The new engineering computing lab will be located some place else on campus. We had a party yesterday to celebrate with the faculty, students and library staff. Photos on the Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/group.php?gid=363730624681&v=photos&so=0


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