Library out of room
Published: Wednesday, September 5, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, September 5, 2012 19:09
The racks are stacked at Bailey/Howe.
As UVM’s enrollment outpaces its resources, the Bailey/Howe library has decided to transition five percent of its printed journals to an electronic format.
“So we’ve got this box called Bailey/Howe and we’ve known for a while that we were going to be in a space crunch,” Dean of Library Mara Saule said. “We receive nearly 15,000 new books a year and we’ve had up to 8,000 people in the library on any given day. We have students sitting on the floor or going to the top floor of the Davis Center to do their work.”
With the library’s general collection shelves filled to over 80 percent capacity and special collections filled to almost 90 percent, storage concerns have culminated in an initiative known as the JSTOR Withdrawal Project that would place dozens of academic journals on the web.
Once it goes into effect this fall, the withdrawal project will discard any print journals in Bailey/Howe that can be found online through JSTOR, an online archive that holds digitalized back issues of academic journals.
UVM currently subscribes to about 2,000 scholarly journals, down from around 4,000 subscriptions a few years ago, Saule said. With JSTOR, she said that students and faculty are able to access 50,000 titles.
While there may not be any loss in actual content or images, some members of the UVM community feel that there is something irrecoverable in the shift of the format itself.
“The printed page is still unsurpassed as information technology,” classics professor Jacques Bailly stated in an email. “There are many things I can do with printed pages that I cannot do with e-texts, such as quickly scanning many pages.”
And to some extent, Saule agrees.
“In some cases, the journal itself is a cultural artifact,” Saule said. “I certainly understand the value of print, and for those subjects where print is significant, we will keep those journals on our shelves.”
UVM already operates two offsite storage facilities for its printed inventory on East Avenue and in Williston, and both are basically full, Saule said. What’s more, neither is particularly accessible nor environmentally protected from unintentional damage.
“If we were to take out all the print files that appear on JSTOR, it would be about 5,000 linear feet,” she said. “That could free up enough space for another good-sized study area.”
Bailey/Howe is currently undergoing a Feasibility Study and Master Plan that will see the renovation of certain parts of the library, as well as provide for a modest addition.
But Saule said she believes the students, not the books, come first at a university library, and questioned whether or not UVM was charged with the same preservation mission found at, say, Harvard or the National Archive.
“Our preservation is of Vermont materials,” she said. “If we didn’t save those, they’re nowhere, while JSTOR has a huge repository of all kinds of academic documents that is both reliable and protected by a strong backup system [called PORTICO].”
Classics professor John Franklin is not exactly swayed by that argument, however.
“I think it’s rash to say that we’ll have access to these journals in 30, 50 or 100 years,” he said. “We don’t know how an energy crisis could effect JSTOR, or even politics — it’s a nonprofit now, but it could pass into private or governmental control.”
Even more distressing than the JSTOR issue at hand is how Bailey/Howe is preparing to define its role for the future, Franklin said.
“Saule may not think that an archive is what UVM is supposed to be, but we are the state’s flagship library and we’re supposed to be a premiere research library,” he said. “We need to decide what we want to be. We can’t give college services at the expense of resources, and we can’t just count on a dozen major universities.”
To get their point across, Franklin and other faculty members formed a committee and sent a letter to Saule objecting to the inferior quality of JSTOR documents and the recent reduction of the reference section on the ground floor to accommodate more study tables.
Saule said she thought professors reserved the right to have access to whichever journals they needed, and said that all faculty departments will have the opportunity to save whichever journals they would like to.
“It’s not the library’s place to decide what goes,” she said.
Sophomore Chris Schneider said that he believed actual texts were easier to work with when researching, but what is more concerning is what happens when an original source goes viral.
“There’s a problem with censorship,” Schneider said. “All of these journals can be updated, and patch notes in the text coding shows how alterations are made all the time to Web pages and Web content.”
To professor Franklin, the project represents a major cultural shift in information distribution.
“Interestingly, a lot of these print journals in question are dealing with information on collapsed societies,” Franklin said. “And maybe that’s not just a coincidence.”