Remodel of library comes with pros and cons

Molly Keifer


WITH A TEN YEAR renovation plan currently in the works, Watzek Library is conducting architectural planning for space changes that has raised concerns among members of the Lewis & Clark community.

According to Mark Dahl, the Director of Watzek Library, the process of renovating the library has been a topic of discussion for years.

“This effort is designed to improve the functionality of the library building for the next decade through a series of modest changes,” Dahl said. “[The changes] will potentially be funded through a medium sized grant or some fundraising with folks that are interested in supporting the library.”

Though funding has yet to be secured for a full renovation, finances for architectural planning have been secured so that a substantial plan can be presented to potential donors. A steering team, including faculty members from Watzek, IT, and facilities as well as students, has also been working to highlight ways to improve the condition and functionality of the space.

According to a recent Watzek space planning report, possible changes include “extending the study spaces available for students, with an emphasis on collaborative and food-friendly spaces;” expanding the media lab and Special Collections; and merging the circulation and references desks.

Dahl especially advocates for a new student lounge on the first floor, where students — especially those that live off-campus — would be able to more comfortably spend many hours in Watzek.

“Students are interested in a better student lounge space where they can eat, work together, and hangout,” Dahl said. “Folks are working in the library 24 hours a day and commuters especially are here for a long time and they want to be [in Watzek] and be able to eat food.”

Melissa Dean-Tressler ’16, is a co-chair for the Student Advisory Committee for Watzek and holds the position of student representative on the steering team. She expressed excitement about future renovations.

“The library is such an amazing resource,” Dean-Tressler said. “With the renovations we want to highlight the resources a lot of students don’t know we have and increase the interaction between librarians and students. [Watzek] is a great meeting place for students, faculty, and librarians, and it has so much potential for more interactions and more learnings and creative production.”

However, not everyone is convinced by the proposed renovations. Becko Copenhaver, Professor of Philosophy, supports the renovations on a general note because she claims that taking care of the library supports students, “which is [LC’s] institutional mission.”

But she disagrees with plans to reduce of the amount of space allocated to the physical holdings in the library. She also protests the merging of the circulation and reference desks.

“Circulation is a very different function from what research librarians do,” Copenhaver said. “My students use research librarians an enormous amount. Merging the two desks is confusing to students, and it’s confusing to first year students in particular. I think it raises the probability that students won’t take advantage of those resources until much later in their career and that’s a real shame.”

Additionally, Copenhaver worries  that merging the desks could lead to there not being “four or five research librarians, but two or three and reduced time available for consultation with students.”

Another result of the future renovations is that up to 5.5 percent of the book collection could be cut. Dahl said that the cuts will be minimal because many cuts would be for “articles represented on JSTOR or outdated reference materials.” He also stated that the college has resources in interlibrary loan at their disposal and that many fields have moved their research to E-books.

“The liaisons in each area work with faculty to decide what books are no longer relevant,” Dahl said. “We are focusing a lot on [cutting] non-scholarly materials that are highly duplicated at other schools. Even if it’s something that’s provencial, if it’s not at another Alliance institution, we will probably keep it to preserve it. But if it’s not something that seems to be tangential to the curriculum, then we will withdraw it.”

Paul Allen, Assistant Professor of Mathematics, maintains that the committee is taking faculty concerns seriously.

“If I had to summarize the feedback we have received from the faculty in four words, it would be, ‘We care about books,’” Allen said. “Most of the concerns the committee has heard are centered around the possibility of reducing space available for monographs. I share these concerns, and am encouraged that the collections space analysis was updated to reflect the value that the faculty place on physical monographs.”

Copenhaver worries about the increased emphasis on relying more heavily on interlibrary loan.

“I oppose the reduction of the amount of space that is allocated to the physical holdings in the library,” Copenhaver said. “When a student has to wait four weeks to receive a book, it undermines the things we as professors are asking them to do. That’s just not fair to the students. If we are growing our collection by relying on the physical books that are available at other libraries, we run into a very serious problem. All of the other libraries that are in the consortium are decreasing their physical holdings on the assumption they will be able to get those books from other places. It doesn’t take a logician to figure out what’s problematic with that.”

Copenhaver also doubts the usability of e-books compared to physical books “because the platforms are clunky and difficult to use.”

In light of these varying opinions, it is ultimately important that the students weigh in.

“I think it’s really important for students to have a voice because they are the main part of who uses the library,” Dean-Tressler said. “It’s important that our needs and concerns, and also our opinions, are met too.”

A community feedback forum will be announced on the Watzek website in early December.


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