April 15, 2009

Students Question Phys. Sciences Library Closing

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Although the announcement for the closing of Edna McConnell Clark Physical Sciences Library came over a month ago, the administration is still feeling reverberations of ill sentiment from affected students and academics. The full brunt of this bitterness came directly to a head in yesterday’s forum in Clark Hall, where Janet McCue, associate University librarian, headed a small cadre of librarians to field questions and address confusions regarding the closing.
“We don’t want to have your research suffer, and we really don’t want there to be obstacles to your work,” McCue said to the audience of about 25, mostly graduate students. “We also don’t want to diminish the collection support we’re giving you.”
The decision to close the library was made to help accommodate the roughly $2 million in budget cuts the University library system absorbed this year. Additionally, each library will be cutting its collection budget for 12 percent.
The specific decision to shut down the Physical Sciences Library was made by looking at a number of factors, including circulation figures, the number of visitors, and how much of the library’s resources are available online.
Although the space currently occupied by the Physical Sciences Library will no longer be used for storing books, the various resources the library offers will be saved by either storage in another campus library or digitalization. However, more so than the actual books and science journals the library offers, students are concerned about the convenient proximity of the resources being compromised by the closing. The location of the library as upstairs from where many grad students work in Clark Hall is ideal to maximize efficiency in research and study.
“Usage goes down exponentially with distance,” David Curtin grad said.
Curtin and other students contended that a walk to Mann or Uris library for important resources would be an inconvenience not worth the time, and many students would be more likely to illegally download or obtain the necessary resources.
Even the concept of digitizing the libraries’ resources was met with intense opposition, as electronic searches for specific terms often end up with too many results to go through efficiently.
Another feared consequence of the closing was its effect on the quality of the physics, astronomy and chemistry departments at the University, especially in relation to other schools.
“The concern with the closing is that it is a permanent solution to a temporary problem,” said one frustrated audience member. “We’re not trying to be adequate, we’re trying to be world-class, [to be] the university in the world.”
However, Cornell is not the only institution that has taken major budget hits to the library system. McCue noted that she had a list of schools where libraries are being consolidated or affected in some way by budget cuts, including Columbia and Stanford.
“The Physical Sciences Library is not the only library that’s going to be affected,” McCue said. “We’re not the only university that’s going through some of these changes.”
McCue, along with Leah Solla, coordinator of the public service center and chemistry librarian, took the criticisms in stride, but emphasized that the decision had already been made, and the present goal was to figure out the future of the space, as well as the Physical Sciences Library as an institution. Among the measures taken to figure out the future of the Physical Sciences resources and the current space used is a transition team, composed of faculty, staff and students. All attendees of the forum were encouraged to sign up for the transition team.
Currently, the Office of the Vice Provost for Research is at the helm of what to do with the space once the library is shut down at the end of 2009. However, many students stressed that if shelves of books and a study area were simply provided, it would make all the difference.
“We’d love to hear more ideas coming from the departments about how we can work with students more,” Solla said. “We’re trying to take apart pieces of the library and figure out which impact the students most.”