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Preserve the Student Center Reading Room

The Association of Student Activities (ASA) has recommended that the MIT Science Fiction Society (MITSFS) library be relocated to the fifth floor of the Student Center. The old MITSFS space could then be renovated to house several student groups which currently lack office space. However, this would result in the loss of at least part of the reading room. The Tech believes that this unique and valuable asset should be preserved in its current form for MIT students.

The reading room is currently the only space on campus set aside as quiet study space that can be used at all hours. Although none of the Institute libraries are open past midnight, many students do a significant portion of their work well into the morning. Multi-purpose lounges such as Transitions and the dining area of Lobdell are not adequate substitutes, as they are often noisy and distracting places where students not only study, but also eat and socialize. While these spaces are valuable in their own right, the reading room provides a quiet study environment.

The merits of the reading room do not go unnoticed by students. The reading room is frequently filled with students who need peace, quiet, and freedom from distractions to stay on task. On Thursday nights, before many problem sets are due, the reading room is usually filled to capacity.

Last year, students put up strong resistance to a proposal by the administration to use the reading room for Technology Enabled Active Learning (TEAL), part of a Physics Department project to enhance freshman physics classes, which resulted in administrators finding an alternate location for TEAL. The Tech urges students to resist this new attempt to take over the reading room. While this time a student group wants control over the space, the potential outcome is the same: the loss of a unique space that serves a vital purpose for the student community. The student body’s success at keeping TEAL out of the reading room proves that if students make their voices heard, they can prevent proposals like this from going through.

The Tech agrees with the motives of the ASA to move the MITSFS library. A different location for MITSFS could provide the society with better walk-by traffic and more room for people to read the books that they house. The MITSFS would benefit from a different location as they are running out of space for their current collection of materials. Furthermore, the MITSFS space is ideal for student groups that are in need of office space.

However, even if we take these benefits into account, the detriment to the student body caused by the harms to the reading room is too great a price to pay. Other underutilized spaces on campus should be examined as possible locations for the MITSFS library.

The ASA should not limit their search to the Student Center, including in their search non-traditional centers of student group activity. Innovations in library design (such as the compact shelving in the Music Library) should allow the MITSFS library to fit into spaces on campus where one might not expect to find a library. Along with space, major concerns for the MITSFS library are also security, comfort, and accessibility. With a continued search, the ASA can surely find a location for the library that provides an improvement in regards to the latter two concerns. Though the reading room provides this improvement, the overall sacrifice made on student life could be minimized in other locations.

The ASA’s proposal is incomplete because it does not include provisions for quiet, all-hours study space. The loss of the reading room is too great a price to pay for more student office space.