Creating a Better Library SystemIn an effort to correct some of the deficiencies in the MIT library system, the administration is considering consolidating the Science and Engineering Libraries in the Hayden Building and moving the Humanities Library to the Great Dome. We do not believe this proposal will solve any of the problems facing MIT’s libraries, and will only drain resources from more promising initiatives. MIT should stop considering this poorly-thought plan to swap library spaces.
The most pressing concern facing the MIT library system is a lack of space, and any initiatives which better use space should be carefully studied. But switching the Humanities and Engineering Libraries will not solve this problem. The engineering collection has about 15,000 more volumes than its humanities counterpart, and the Barker Library contains about 10,000 more square feet of assignable floor space and roughly 4,000 feet more of linear shelf space than the Humanities Library. It does not make sense to shoehorn the engineering library into the smaller space, as it is the larger collection.
Additionally, the expenditure of resources on researching the space switch diverts time, energy, and money from other projects. The switch of the two libraries, involving the physical transfer of over 500,000 volumes, promises to be too costly and time-consuming to make the transfer worthwhile. The location of the Science Library with respect to Barker is the least of the problems with library system. Making libraries more attractive for student use and increasing storage space are more worthwhile goals.
Renovations to the libraries, improvements which are overdue in some locations, could net a small amount of increased on-site storage space. Additionally, the libraries should devote their energy to acquiring more off-site storage space, something which is also increasingly in short supply.
One of the strengths of the libraries has been their use of technology. Services like WebBarton and Lexis-Nexis are accessible from every networked computer at MIT. Perhaps a similar system could be devised for locating and obtaining volumes off-campus. A system by which users could request volumes over the Internet and then pick up the volume on campus with a short time span of, say, an hour, would be a great service to the MIT community. Certainly, this is a better use of resources than the proposed space shuffle.
Creating the perfect library system probably involves building a new large central library on campus, something which is now exceedingly difficult as MIT at this point in time. But more effective management of space and proper investment and management in off-campus space would prove an acceptable substitute. Throwing away money and time on an ill-advised space swap does nothing to increase the system’s capacity and only creates more problems than it solves.