Hopkins plans renovations for the MSE Library

By KATY WILNER | April 26, 2018

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COURTESY OF EMILY MCDONALD The University proposed removing books from the Milton S. Eisenhower Library to create more study spaces.

The University has begun developing plans to renovate the Milton S. Eisenhower Library (MSE) to replace original heating, ventilation, air conditioning, electrical and plumbing systems. MSE has been using these systems since they were installed when the building was constructed in 1964.

Currently, MSE does not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or contain fire suppression systems, which are required by national fire codes. While the renovations will address these needs, the proposed plans also include ideas to reorganize the interior of the library to create more study spaces for students.

Suggested designs would add more natural light, tables and classrooms to the MSE. However, the University hasnot yet decided on how best to incorporate these resources into the library. 

One proposal made early in the planning process involved removing books from the library in order to make room for more study spaces. Many undergraduates are supportive of this plan, including freshman Christopher Caputo, who believes that the library lacks sufficient for students.

“There’s a ton of unused, un-checked out books, and there’s never any space to study,” he said. “People are always walking around looking for a place to study, so I think this would be a good change.”

However, other students object to such a proposal. According to Royce Best, a fourth-year graduate student in the English department, these plans would remove two thirds of the books housed in the library.

On behalf of the graduate English department, Best wrote an email to Winston Tabb, Sheridan Dean of University Libraries and Museums, and the Library Student Advisory Committee (LSAC) to express these concerns. In the email, Best explained that removing these books would severely harm English graduate research.

“Additional renovation suggestions aimed at increasing study space and classrooms by removing stacks and physical library materials seem directly aimed to benefit undergraduate students at the expense of graduate students, especially those in the humanities and social sciences whose work and research depend upon these materials being physically present,” Best wrote. 

In an interview with The News-Letter, Best explained that the University plans on moving some of the books to off-campus Hopkins libraries, including the Welch Medical Library located on the Medical Campus.

The remaining portion of the books would be relocated to the Library Service Center (LSC), an off-site storage facility. Students will be able to request books to be delivered to MSE.

Best stated that this process is an inefficient way to conduct research.

“You would have to get online and request the books that you would like to see, and then it would take a day or two to get the book,” he said. “That’s lost time, and it hinders research.”

Graduate students expressed in a letter to Tabb and LSAC that shipments and deliveries of books are often delayed. They explained that other resources to access books, such as Inter-Library Loan and Borrow Direct have been known to be unreliable and cause interruptions in research.

These students believe that the only way for the University to promote humanities research is to keep all the books in the MSE Library. 

Best also explained that many of the books available for online ordering, especially older books, do not have detailed descriptions of their content, so choosing books for research is challenging. 

“It’s hard to know what’s even in them without physically looking at them,” he said. “We’re worried that if a bunch of books are moved off-site, and we don’t know what’s in them, they’ll never be checked out again.”

Best believes it will be impossible for the English graduate students and the University to reach an agreement on these proposed building plans. In attempt to reach a compromise, however, Tabb asked if there was a specific list of books that graduate students wanted to remain on campus.

Best said that it is difficult for graduate students to come up with a set list of books they wish to have on campus because of the unpredictable quality of their research.

“We could certainly come up with lists of individual books or categories of books and things we want to keep on site,” Best said. “However, humanities majors are by nature interdisciplinary, so there’s really no way of knowing which types of material you will end up needing for a project.”

Some undergraduates also think that removing materials from the library would affect their studies.

Freshman Elana Rubin explained that although she supports the ideas behind the renovations, she uses the books in MSE as a humanities major and thinks removing books from the library is a bad idea.

“I like the idea of more natural light and more study spaces, because it is really crowded and hard to find a seat, but I think taking books out of a library is a really bad idea,” she said. “When I write papers, I go and I find books, and it’s extremely helpful for me. I don’t want to have to go off campus for that.”

She hopes that the University will create a new plan that will incorporate new study spaces in addition to keeping resources available to both undergraduate and graduate students.

Director of Communications and Marketing for the library Heather Stalfort wrote in an email to The News-Letter that the University is open to hearing student views on the proposed renovations. She explained that the library’s main goal is to provide a facility that is equipped to provide resources for a diverse body of student and faculty researchers.

“We are still very early in our detailed planning for use of space in a renovated MSE and will continue to meet with the students as plans evolve,” she wrote. “What we ultimately decide to do will depend on many factors, including engineering studies and especially cost.”

The University has yet to finalize what these future plans will entail. Stalfort recognizes that there are many different components that must be taken into account before they decide on a specific design for the renovated library.

Stalfort explained that even though they are unsure how all of their objectives will be met they are consulting with library users.

“Dean Tabb and other library staff had a very productive meeting with graduate students to talk about plans for the renovation and to gain a better understanding of their concerns,” she wrote. 

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