Library undersized, underfunded

by Beacon Staff • December 6, 2006

Seven years after relocating to the Walker Building, Emerson's library is too small and can no longer meet even the basic needs of its students and faculty, according to library directors from other colleges who conducted an extensive evaluation of the library this spring.

In their official report, they said the library needed more computers, study rooms, seats, funding and, most importantly, more space.

"It's way too small," said Carol Terry, Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) library director, after touring the library for three days.

Emerson's 20,270 square-foot library has 152 student seats, enough for less than 5 percent of the undergraduate population at any one time. It has 37 computer seats, although only 20 of them have "productivity software" like Microsoft Office and are sometimes monopolized by classes.

Terry said any college should seat 10 percent of its students but, because of Emerson's curricular and extracurricular needs, its library should seat at least 20 percent.

Both Terry and Sam Demas, a librarian from Carleton College in Minnesota, said Emerson's library should be three to five times larger to accommodate a college of its size. Demas said the library should be able to sit six to eight times more students than it does now.

He said the report's primary recommendations were for more space and more extensive print and media collections.

"For the size of the school and the breadth of the programs, the collections are not asbig and as deep as they should be," Demas said. "The college is spending $11,000 a year on media. You should easily be spending double that."

Mickey Zemon, the library's executive director, said the library was not designed to handle as many students as it does.

"Everybody realizes there's this need to expand the library," Zemon said. "[In 1999,] we had no idea how many students would be coming into the library each day. Now that we've seen that, we realize we need to expand."

She said an 8 percent increase in traffic so far this year compared to the first two months of last year has exacerbated the library's space shortage. More than 1,100 students, or a third of the undergraduate population, come to the library each day, and the traffic has created a noisy, overcrowded atmosphere.

"We have received a number of complaints about the noise in the library," Zemon said. "I feel that noise complaints are due to the congestion and the lack of quiet study areas available to the students."

Schools like UMass-Amherst have created more "user space," as Zemon calls it, by moving books out of the library and into storage areas. Bob Fleming, who will replace Zemon as the executive director of the library in March, said Emerson is in a bind because it would be tough to remove anything from what he describes as a relatively small book collection.

"We can't do with any less space for print materials because we don't have much to begin with," Fleming said. "I don't want to increase the number of seats in the library to diminish the resources we provide. I don't want to rob Peter to pay Paul."

Terry said the evaluation team, which also included Charles Getchell of Quinnipiac University, concluded Emerson's library would have to be moved again to be brought up to date, and current plans to expand into the Colonial Building would not suffice.

"Our recommendation frankly is that there should be a new library in a different location," Terry said. "I've seen the plans to move into [the Colonial Building.] This modest expansion is not going to be enough."

She said Emerson missed an "amazing opportunity" by not putting the library into Piano Row.

Fleming, currently the assistant director for access services and archives, said the proposal for expansion is still waiting for approval from the administration.

"We have not received an official go-ahead for planning the expansion," Fleming said. "But we are ready for it."

By comparison, Carleton College's library seats 40 percent of its 1,800 students and provides 73 computers and 22 group study rooms, while RISD seats 10 percent of its undergraduate population and has 22 computers with productivity software.

Many Boston colleges conform more closely to the review board's recommendations, and some far exceed Emerson's capacity.

Emmanuel College seats exactly 10 percent of its 2000 undergrads in its library and has 44 computer seats, according to Dr. Susan Von Daum Tholl, the acting library director. Boston University's (BU) main library has 2000 seats and 50 computers, according to BU reference librarian Cathy McLaughlin.

Zemon said she believed Emerson's library should be comparable to Suffolk's undergraduate library, which seats 6.8 percent of the student body.

"I would love to have the 20 study rooms that Suffolk has, and I'm sure they would be full," Fleming said. "But I think we do a very good job of satisfying the educational needs of our students with the resources we actually have."

Inconsiderate students and the noise caused by overcrowding in the library pose a serious problem for students such as Laura Jean Daly, a sophomore marketing major. Daly doesn't own a computer and uses the library's to do most of her homework. She said the congestion can be enough to drive her from the library.

"I really hate it when I'm typing [in the electronic classroom] and someone answers a phone call," Daly said. "I feel like now that we're in college we disregard the library etiquette we learned in kindergarten."