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Yale Students, Officials Clash Over Future Of On-Campus Library

Students at Yale University are protesting a plan to permanently remove some books from a campus library in favor of more study space.

They’re concerned about an upcoming renovation of the Bass Library and they feel as if the school isn’t taking their study habits into consideration.

“Students want to work with shelves surrounding them with books on them,” said Leland Stange, a Yale University senior who’s majoring in humanities and philosophy. “They want to see the heft of books and have to be forced to sort of confront these physical objects and work in those spaces. That’s what encourages you to do work is being in a library – not being in a lounge.”

By the fall, the school will remove about 58 percent of the volumes currently located in the Bass Library in favor of more study space.

They’ll be re-shelved nearby in the university’s Sterling Memorial Library.

Stange said the collection would have been cut down even further if it weren’t for student intervention.  He’s organized students in protest of the Bass renovation. He encouraged students to check out books from Bass, in what they're calling a "browse-in." Students have also passed around a petition as a way to alert others about the book removal.

The university’s librarian believes the controversy surrounding the renovation is overblown.

Susan Gibbons attributed the passionate response from students to a conflation of two things: the task of keeping a student body that turns over year-to-year apprised of what’s happening, and concern over the project’s original timeline – one that would have seen a Bass closure for the fall 2019 semester.

She believed Yale addressed the latter of the two issues when they moved to keep Bass open by altering an original design and opting to go with a “soft roll-out.”

“Students come into the conversation mid-stream and don’t recognize always that there was a lot of consultation and information that came before they arrived on campus,” Gibbons said. “Too often, the project is being presented as a sudden decision on our part that ignores two years of planning, including a nine-month ethnographic study of how students engage with the space within Bass and with the collections and that all of that information has led to where we are today.”

Gibbons maintains that she’s kept the Yale community of faculty and students updated on the project since the fall of 2017.

Credit Frankie Graziano / Connecticut Public Radio
Connecticut Public Radio
"I'll have often gone into Bass not knowing what I was going to write for my next essay and you just find things -- little gems -- that you didn't know would be helpful, but are crucial to your essay," said Olivia Facini, a Yale student from Ridgewood, New Jersey.

Still, some students feel that the renovation will make Bass an environment less conducive to studying

“The idea of making this library have less books is to make it modern and feel streamlined – like an airport terminal – but that’s not welcoming,” said Olivia Facini, who’s also a Yale senior. “Who likes to spend lots of time in an airport terminal? I don’t. Everyone hates layovers right? I don’t want to treat my studies like I’m waiting for a layover.”

Volumes are placed into Bass based on suggestions by Yale professors, which students say they like because any work’s inclusion there could spark debate between the instructors and their pupils.

Facini and other seniors are speaking out about something that’ll take place after they’re gone.

“We’re not fighting for ourselves,” Facini said. We’re fighting for future students so they can have the same experiences that we’ve had and so our professors can continue to operate their classes and work their syllabi the same way, because we have found that to be a really crucial way that we’ve pursued our studies.”

Gibbons, however, doesn’t anticipate a change in studying patterns for students.

“I don’t think that as a result of this project, students are going to have less access to the books -- they’re all still here on-campus, they’re all still in the same contiguous building,” Gibbons said. “But, what they will have access to is more places to actually sit down amongst the books and do that studying.”

She said that students access collections at both the Sterling and Bass libraries at a similar rate, but that usage of the Bass Library has dropped considerably.

“The reality is that the number of students who are using books in their classrooms has changed over time,” Gibbons said. “In some cases, in the humanities, it remains high, but in other disciplines, it is changing to more electronics such as articles that are online and things like that."

Gibbons did say that the student engagement in the Bass collection “is a very positive thing.”

The Bass Library has 145,000 volumes as of now but after the renovation, it’ll be more like 61,000.

Frankie Graziano is the host of 'The Wheelhouse,' focusing on how local and national politics impact the people of Connecticut.

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