Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
January 28, 2023

Town halls discuss concerns regarding MSE library renovations

By JULIA CHOE | September 27, 2021

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Several attendees expressed concern regarding the relocation of several books important to their research due to the renovations. 

Two town halls on the renovation of the Milton S. Eisenhower Library (MSE) were held on Sept. 17 and Sept. 21 via Zoom. Both town halls were organized by the working committee on the redesign of the library and led by co-chairs Christopher Cannon, vice dean for humanities and social sciences, and Sayeed Choudhury, associate dean for research data management.

In an email to The News-Letter, Cannon explained that the town halls were meant to be opportunities to hear community members’ input and for the committee to capture concerns it hadn’t anticipated.

“We might have called them ‘listening sessions’ because that’s what we hoped they were. But we also could have called them ‘brainstorming sessions’ because we were looking for whatever new ideas about a library in the 21st century people had,” he wrote.

At the town halls, Cannon shared the results of a survey that the committee sent out to all Hopkins affiliates with questions about their library usage and renovation suggestions.

He revealed that the library was used the most by undergraduates in terms of the largest number of visits and hours per visit, while faculty used the library the least. Overall, the survey showed that undergraduate students visited the library primarily for individual study. Graduate students visited the library for individual research and viewing print collections the most; faculty also went to the library to collect material from print collections the most. All three groups used the library’s Geographic Information System (GIS) and data services the least.

When asked about what changes or additions the library should have, about 57% of participants indicated that they’d like the library to have improved lighting. Around 50% of participants wanted more areas for individual study and roughly the same amount wished for more closed areas for group study.

In his email, Cannon emphasized the survey’s revelation that undergraduates want more quiet places to study alone or in small groups.

“We came to the process with the view that undergraduates had moved on from these more traditional library uses. But the call for more and better facilities just for reading has been robust,” Cannon wrote. “In some sense, the most surprising suggestions have been that the library should do better what a library is usually understood to do: make it both pleasant and easy for users to get to books and quietly read them.” 

After Cannon’s presentation, the floor was open for attendees to give their suggestions on how to improve the library. One common concern raised by attendees in both town halls was the movement of books and other physical research materials off-site to the Libraries Service Center.

Christine Kim, a graduate student in the Department of the History of Art, shared that she and other graduate students in her department use physical material extensively in their research. She is concerned that her research could be affected by the library’s renovations, especially because she finds currently available resources to be insufficient.

“When I’m doing my research I spend a lot of time going through what’s available in the library. If I know a book is in a certain area, I’ll look up all of the books that are related to that area and grab five or 10 books that I hadn’t really anticipated getting. That’s really been quite beneficial,” Kim said.

Maximillian Hernandez, a graduate student also in the Department of the History of Art, agreed with Kim.

“In our field, the serendipitous nature of walking through the stacks and realizing that there are additional sources, because of how our historical literature is produced, is absolutely fundamental for how we do research,” Hernandez said. “I was already surprised by the number of books that are off-site and having to wait maybe two [to] four days to get access to those books. If the collections that we have access to were moved off-site, our research would be actively damaged.”

MSE librarians attending the event were primarily focused on improving staff spaces and bringing attention to the services they provide.

Peter Lawson, the librarian for data and visualization at MSE, commented on the result from the survey that found that GIS and data services are utilized the least by library patrons.

“Until you bring it to the forefront and advertise it and make it an inspiring feature of the library, it’s not going to be [used]. Being hidden down on A-level in the back in a room with a big monitor that’s not on is not going to inspire individuals to say, ‘This is an interesting service that the library provides and I want to learn more,’” Lawson said. “You need to bring those services to the forefront and visually communicate them and advertise them. Otherwise, patrons aren’t even aware they’re there.”

Heather Furnas, the librarian for history, Africana studies and history of science and technology at MSE, suggested that more visibility should be brought to library instruction services and that librarians should be prioritized in those teaching spaces.

“We are participating in that teaching community at Hopkins. I’m seeing a lot of seminar rooms bringing in other faculty across to use spaces in the library for instruction, but there’s also the instruction that we do,” Furnas said.

Royce Best, a postdoctoral fellow in the Expository Writing Program, explained in an email to The News-Letter that he attended Friday’s town hall because he wanted to make sure that the views of undergraduate library users were not given more weight than other types of users, such as graduate students in the humanities and postdoctoral fellows.

“I thought the spirit of the town hall felt good. The people involved with the planning of the renovations gave off an impression of wanting to consider feedback from as many diverse voices as possible,” Best wrote.

The working committee on library redesign is hosting three focus groups this week for affiliates to discuss individual interests. The focus group on Digital Humanities will be held on Sept. 29 from 5:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.; the focus group on Books and other Print Materials will be held on Sept. 30 from 5:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.; and the focus group on Science and Engineering will be held on Oct. 1 from 3:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. 


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