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Hayden and Barker May Switch Places

Library System Faces Space Shortage

By Jennifer Krishnan


The Humanities and Engineering Libraries may soon have to switch places. The exchange is part of a proposal being considered by the Faculty Committee on the Library System to consolidate the Science and Engineering Libraries.

Barker Engineering Library occupies the fifth through eighth floors of Building 10, under the Great Dome. The Humanities Library is currently housed on the second floor of Hayden Memorial Library (Building 14S), directly above the Science Library.

The proposed move would allow Hayden to become one big Science and Engineering Library, rather than two disjointed libraries.

Committee considers options

The proposed move is one of several options being considered by the committee in response to recent surveys of students and faculty. These surveys reported that “students [and faculty] felt that the distributed library system was difficult to use,” said Director of Libraries Ann Wolpert.

“MIT is unique in that, compared to our peer institutions, our library system is highly distributed,” Wolpert said. Rather than having a large, centralized library, as Harvard does, MIT has five major libraries and five smaller libraries.

“Another possibility would be to build a new Science ad Engineering Library north of Vassar Street,” said Professor of Mechanical Engineering John H. Lienhard, head of the committee. “Then Building 14 could become an expanded Humanities and Social Sciences Library. This would probably cost $50 million and take five to ten years to accomplish.”

Libraries face storage problem

At the same time the committee tries to consolidate MIT’s library resources, the committee is trying to deal with a severe lack of of shelf and storage space. “All five of our large libraries have exceeded their available shelving capacity,” Wolpert said. They are now sending many of their materials to off-site storage.

“The purpose of a library is to have access to resources you don’t use every day or every week. Having one third of our collection in storage makes that logistically difficult,” said Peter A. Shulman ’01, Undergraduate Association President.

“In an ideal world, we should push for funding to construct a new, state-of-the-art science and engineering library that shows MIT to be a leader in library technology,” Shulman added.

Shulman feels that “consolidating the Science and Engineering libraries is not an issue. As long as access is convenient, it shouldn’t matter where it is. What’s important is to make our collection accessible by moving everything out of storage.”

“We’ve fallen behind on libraries,” Shulman said, “but now is the right time to push for changes.”

The construction of a main library would help solve the storage problem, but if it ever happens, it won’t be soon. The committee is also looking at renovating and even expanding its current facilities. For example, it has received support from the administration to install compact shelving in the basement of Hayden. Compact shelving is a space-efficient shelving technology already being used in the Lewis Music Library, as well as in many university libraries nationwide.

To help guide the library system, MIT Libraries has hired James L. Mullins of Villanova University as Assistant Director for Administration. Mullins was the Director of Libraries at Villanova for the past 5 years and held the same position at Indiana University South Bend for 17 years before that.