This fall students will not have the quintessential college experience of spending late nights at the library writing their papers alongside the stacks of books at the John Stewart Memorial Library. This is because the library is temporarily closed and has relocated to Sarah’s Coffeehouse in Lenfest Commons.
Severe heating and cooling destroy library infrastructure
On Sat, Aug. 27, two days before the fall semester began, Mary Hendrickson, Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty, announced the library’s closure to students in an all-campus email. The issue was defined in the email, “[S]evere heating and cooling problems in the library last spring caused widespread damage to the walls, women’s bathroom and technology room, among other areas. A review of the situation over the course of the summer showed that the required repairs are so extreme, the College would be better served to explore a complete renovation as opposed to stopgap work on the heating system.”
Initially, the Physical Plant planned to fix the damages, but after the library staff presented a slide show of the building’s damages to the Buildings and Grounds Committee of the Board of Trustees, it was evident that the situation could not be easily resolved. In a Billboard news story from March 2011, it is noted that, “The library estimates the cost of renovation to be $100,000 to $200,000.” However, an engineer must assess the damages to accurately determine the cost.
Focus groups planned for entire campus community
Wilson College will begin the renovation planning process. Kathleen Murphy, Library Director, says, “Focus groups are planned. In fact, getting input from students, faculty and staff was the president’s first goal where plans for the library building were concerned. We are starting with a brown bag event for faculty and staff on “The Future of Academic Libraries”, Fri, Sept. 23 at 4:30pm in Sarah’s. We would be happy to do a similar presentation for students if they would like.”
During this transitional period, the library has implemented several changes facilitating student’s needs. Students can still check out books from the library’s collection, but must do so via the Wilson College Library Webpage. There is a 24-hour waiting period for books during weekdays. Timmura Morton ‘13 is a work-study student at the library. Morton says, “The move has not been a burden for me because I do not work the hours where I have to carry books from the old library to Sarah’s, but I wonder about other people who do. So far I have not heard complaints about people not being able to get their books in a timely fashion, so I suspect that the temporary system is working. I have heard complaints from clubs, but I believe they can have meetings in other areas. We should all compromise a little because the library is a necessary part of the campus. And as far as how it may look to visitors who come and see the library closed, it’s temporary; enough said.”
Addition of e-brary
The library also introduced an e-book collection called “ebrary.” E-books are the electronic versions of printed books. They have a search function enabled within them for retrieving the specific information readers need. E-books can be accessed 24 hours a day by students with an Internet connection.
According to an all-campus email from Andrew Frank, e-books are available with “more than 70,000 multidisciplinary titles,” of which the “[m]ajority of titles [were] published in 2000 or later.” These include “books from publishers like Cambridge University Press, Harvard University Press, Brookings Institute, BIOS Scientific Publishing, Oxford University Press and MIT Press.”
With the relocation to Sarah’s Coffeehouse, a 24-hour technology lab is available in the Women’s Studies Lounge. As described in the Wilson College website, “The main purpose of the electronic classroom is library instruction. When not being used for instruction, the classroom is open to students as a computer lab. The classroom is equipped with personal computers and wireless laptop computers, a Smart Board connected to both a PC and a DVD/VHS player, and a document camera.”
Although the relocation poses a burden to students wishing to utilize the library as they have prior to the move, the library staff continues to extend their services. Murphy says, “I would like students to remember that each one of you can/does have a personal librarian. Call us, send us an email, ask us for help with a research project, and we will be there for you - that has not changed.”
Many other college libraries offer an increasing amount of technological resources, more than Wilson initially provided. Technology will continue to change and the definition of a library is changing. Wilson thought creatively about developing their services and took into account user needs and preferences as well as the relationship of services to the academic programs. Budget challenges will continue, but the renovation provides an opportunity for a renewal in library services and the library will improve as a result.