Keep libraries a priority

Wash. U. students were once again reminded of the tough economic times in Chancellor Mark Wrighton’s Feb. 8 e-mail, in which he discussed job losses at the University and the still-sagging endowment. The University’s libraries have not been immune to this, so we want to ensure that our libraries remain a focus of the University.

Shirley Baker, dean of University Libraries, said it best: “Libraries are critical to the mission of a university. With a library you can pass on and create more knowledge.” We students probably don’t dwell on their importance, but the reality is that our libraries play intimate roles in our lives. Because of the libraries, we have a quiet place to study at 1 a.m.; because of them, we have access to dozens of research databases, ranging from the Encyclopedia of Human Rights to GenderWatch.

Like academic departments, the Wash. U. library system receives sizable funding from the University’s budget but also relies upon donations and endowments to expand and maintain collections. But the recession has meant less giving and more cuts. Last summer, the mathematics and biology libraries closed, and hours at the business library have been reduced. Also, five library staff jobs were eliminated in January, and all staff will be taking a one-week furlough, spread out over the course of the calendar year.

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We understand the necessity of belt-tightening, but our libraries must remain as important to Wash. U.’s administration as they are to its students. So far, the University has done a commendable job in minimizing the impact of changes on students. According to Dean Baker, reducing hours at Olin Library is not under consideration, and as library materials become more widely available electronically, library administrators plan to convert spaces currently housing print materials into additional workrooms for students.

While we realize that the University’s costs are covered by different funds, it’s unsettling that the University thinks it is also important to provide fresh orchids in the DUC and memory foam mattresses to freshmen in traditional dorms. These measures certainly make Wash. U. more attractive to prospective students, but they nonetheless divert valuable funding from new book purchases or a journal subscriptions that, financially speaking, the library struggles to maintain. This frankly goes against our needs as students at such an academically demanding university.

Our libraries must remain a priority despite the current financial constraints. After four years at Wash. U., students probably will reflect more frequently upon late nights spent cramming in the library than upon the pretty flowers at lunchtime. University administrators should focus on maintaining our library system as a strong resource for its students.

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