On Feb. 7, Vermont State University President Parwinder Grewal announced a new decision to transition to an all-digital, university-wide “library” and repurpose the existing library spaces on each campus. The Middlebury chapter of the Association of American University Professors (AAUP) strongly opposes the closing of any of the VTSU libraries.
“Libraries are at the heart of educational institutions. It’s where learning and collaboration happens outside of the classroom. Physical libraries provide the space and computers with high-speed internet that allow equitable access to resources, both print and digital. Libraries provide the staff that teach face to face how to use these resources most effectively. Libraries provide a space for users to study and work together, especially in rural communities where so many faculty and students commute long distances to these campuses and return to homes with inadequate internet access,” said Brenda Ellis, Sr. research & instruction librarian at Middlebury College.
“While digitization is a wonderful innovation, it is neither as universal nor as broadly accessible as is often assumed. In every library, there are significant materials (and archived objects) that are not digitized and, in some cases, they never can be; nor can ‘everyone’ make easy use of digitized materials, as so often is assumed.
“Moreover, there is a special kind of intellectual discovery that digitization actively prevents and that is the kind of discovery that comes when you are looking for one book and then find a true gem simply because your eyes fell upon it, three shelves up or right behind you. Some of those gems, in my experience, have significantly transformed my thinking and outlook in unforgettable ways.
“The special alchemy of a library requires (at least) four things: 1) the books, journals and archives that make up its holdings; 2) the unique local community in which that library is embedded; 3) the curious seekers who walk through the door and 4) the wise librarians who guide us in the tasks of discovery, discernment and judicious interpretation that good scholarship and ethical citizenship requires. A university and town that loses its library is a university and town that loses its sacred center, a center that is vital for the continued unfolding of justice and democracy,” said Rebecca Kneale Gould, associate professor of environmental studies at Middlebury College.
Rather than close libraries, it is time for Vermont to adequately fund public education at all levels and in all parts of the state if we want to grow the workforce that Vermont’s future will depend on.
Brenda Ellis,on behalf of the executive committee of the Middlebury chapter of the Association of American University Professors