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Library lacking

Sarah Mervosh | Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Touchdown Jesus is an NBC favorite during Saturday game days. It is a symbol known across the country, and a building that students and alumni often show off to visiting family and friends.

But what the building holds on the inside has become a source of concern for students and faculty who recently created petitions to improve the Library so that it meets Notre Dame standards.

“Notre Dame has been making decision to try and sell itself as a top research university, and so they need a library that is a top research library,” graduate student Lauren Whitnah, who worked on the student petition, said.

The petitions are primarily asking that the Library become dedicated to acquiring more books and increasing its collection size, she said.

“Notre Dame does not aspire to be the University of Louisville. We don’t aspire to be the University of Cincinnati … or Tulane, or Brigham Young, all of which are above us in library rankings,” Whitnah said.

In the number of volumes added each year, Notre Dame fell from 27th to 49th between the years of 2001 and 2008, according to the Association of Research Libraries (ARL).

“To put this figure in perspective, Notre Dame now trails seven of the eight schools in the Ivy League and all but one of the eleven schools in the Big Ten,” according to the student petition.

“We like to think of ourselves as being like an Ivy League. In fact, undergrads are paying close to the tuition of an Ivy League,” Whitnah said. “So why is it that our library is lagging so far behind?”

Library director Jennifer Younger said the Library is aware of the need to increase its collection, and has already purchased more scholarly texts and journals.

“We have, in fact, invested significantly in the library materials,” Younger said. “So we’re making progress, although, as [the petitions] point out, there is progress to be made.”

Although graduate students mainly developed the petition, nearly 80 percent of more than 1,100 students who have signed the petition have been undergraduates, graduate student David Morris, who started the petition, said.

Morris said the large student response exceeded his expectations and shows there is a need to improve the Library.

“The desire to improve the Library … is something shared by a broad segment of Notre Dame’s student body, from incoming freshmen to advanced Ph.D. candidates, from engineers to English majors,” he said.

Nearly 200 faculty members have signed a similar petition, said Sabine MacCormack, who worked on the faculty petition and is a professor of history and classics.

The student and faculty petitions ask to increase the number of books bought per year in addition to hiring additional bibliographers and professional staff. It also calls for a renovation of the entire building to the scale and cost of new science buildings on campus.

The Jordan Hall of Science cost $70 million, according to its Web site.

“The Library is the lab of the humanities, so it’s really important that the University dedicate the funding dollars to keep the Library on par with the top science labs that we’ve been building,” Whitnah said.

MacCormack agreed.

“For many of us, the Library is – or rather ought to be – our intellectual home. This is especially true for those who work in the humanities,” MacCormack said. “I myself find the collections insufficient even for some of my teaching needs.”

Assistant Provost Susan Ohmer said the University has not meant to neglect the humanities, but has focused on the sciences because the sciences had been lagging behind.

“We’ve been behind on the sciences. So in a way this is catch up,” said Ohmer. “As the sciences move ahead, we don’t want the Library to fall behind.”

But improving and renovating the library inevitably brings up monetary issues.

“If you are talking about renovating the whole library, it’s a lot of money,” Ohmer said. “You can look around campus and say well, we are doing a lot of other things, but we already have the funds for those things.”

But Whitnah said she thinks that the University should be able to raise the money.

Notre Dame has the 13th largest educational endowment in the country and the largest at a Catholic university, according to the Investment Office.

“This is Notre Dame. We can have the money if we want to have the money badly enough. If we don’t have the money, it’s because we’re not asking,” Whitnah said.

Younger said that currently, the plan is to renovate two floors of the Library, but renovating the whole building could be a possibility.

“It has been in the University’s thinking to renovate the entire library, however what we typically do is do it in phases,” she said. “We very much anticipate renovating the entire building, but that will be in a future phase.”

“I personally would like to see it happen,” Ohmer said. “I will certainly work hard to make it happen.”

Ohmer said she is “on the same page” with students and agrees that the Library needs more resources.

“I’m all for putting more money into the library,” she said. “The Library has got to keep up. But I think the administration gets that. It’s a question of how to do that.”

The student petition will tentatively close Sept. 11. Students who wish to sign the petition can go to www.nd.edu/~dmorris1/petition_DM.shtml

MacCormack said the faculty petition will continue until the third week of September. Faculty members who wish to sign the petition can find it at www.nd.edu/~smaccorm/petition.shtml