Lack of Transparency and Collaboration at Brown University Libraries

As a senior library specialist at the Rockefeller Library, I’m voicing my concerns, and those that I hear from students, faculty, and coworkers. These concerns regard not only the lack of input that we, the Brown Community, have had in important decisions concerning the libraries on campus, but also the lack of transparency until these decisions are already in full effect.

Illustration by Kelly Wang
Illustration by Kelly Wang

The most recent decision, the removal of services and personnel from what’s left of the Sciences Library, is the latest step in the on-going dismantlement of this library. Starting several years ago with the relocation of science librarians to the Rockefeller Library, it has continued with the floor-by-floor removal of 450,000 volumes (80% of the Sciences Library’s material) to the Library’s off-campus Annex. Although this material can be retrieved in one business day by the efficient Annex staff, many students and faculty simply need to browse this material, whether to study or to find sources, without checking anything out.

Unfortunately for these patrons, the administration decided to remove all books that had not been checked out in the past 10 years (though, often, it had only been 5 years or less) to the off-campus, inaccessible Annex. After making these books difficult to check out, the administration claimed that checkout statistics were way down. They then used this to further justify their removal of services and personnel. When questioned about this decision, Library Director Harriette Hemmasi’s response was “that train has left the station.”

One library staff member responded to the Sciences Library reduction: “If this plan goes through, there will be no library devoted to science and medicine at Brown. The building at 201 Thayer Street will be a basement-level study space with various other university departments above, no collection and no subject-specialist librarians. I’m worried about what this would mean for Brown’s reputation in general and in the STEM fields specifically.”

To quote one Brown sciences professor: “I now look to other institutions for access to research libraries where I can browse the stacks. This and other actions sadly demonstrate that the administration is focused on everything but intellectual life at Brown, disregarding the central purpose of a university.”

Furthermore, at the Rockefeller, stacks and stacks of books were sent to storage, and many private study cubicles removed to make room for two massive offices, each with only one or two people in them. This summer, demolition of the community computer cluster and reading lounge on the Rockefeller’s second floor made way for a much needed but ill-conceived exclusive Graduate Student center. The 35 computers, often in high demand by undergrads, will be replaced with 12, and the reference section will be diminished. When asked about this, the Library Director’s response was “students can use laptops.”

When there is barely any input allowed from students, faculty and staff, the administration will make ill-informed decisions that benefit no one, especially not the students. These decisions are the opposite of Brown’s mission: “to serve the community by…preserving knowledge and understanding in a spirit of free inquiry…through a partnership of students and teachers in a unified community known as a university-college.” Removing most of the Sciences Library’s books creates a barrier to knowledge. Removing the science librarians and assistants denies access to information and services, and further prevents knowledge and understanding. Making far-reaching radical decisions like these without the community’s point of view is exactly the opposite of free inquiry.

Edited by Kidest Assefa-McNeil.

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