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Petition to 'save' library fills up; effort at UA nets 4,000 signatures

by Jaime Adame | August 26, 2018 at 3:22 a.m.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Rows and rows of shelves now sit empty on the third and fourth floors of the David W. Mullins Library at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.

Most books and other printed materials have been moved to a storage facility about a half-mile from the main campus, with printed materials in the largest campus library down from about 1.2 million to more than 210,000, Kelsey Lovewell, public relations coordinator for UA's libraries, said Thursday.

Posters on library walls give students instructions about how to request printed materials. Library workers make deliveries from the storage building four times each weekday, according to Lovewell, as future renovations are designed to open up Mullins Library to provide more space for students to study and collaborate, UA officials have said.

But a petition effort seeking to "save" Mullins Library, started in late June, had more than 4,000 signatures as of Friday afternoon.

Noah Nelson, a senior majoring in electrical engineering, said he signed the petition with the comment: "If you take 86% of Mullins Library's collection away, you no longer have Mullins Library. Shouldn't that percentage be much lower?"

The percentage decrease is closer to 82 percent, based on data provided by Lovewell, which differs from an estimate listed on the petition.

Rick Anderson, associate dean for collections and scholarly communication at the University of Utah, described UA's move as standing out among other large research universities, sometimes referred to as "Research 1" schools based on the Carnegie Classifications system.

"I'm not aware of any library at a Research 1 university that has moved as high a percentage of its print holdings off-site," Anderson said in an email.

But Anderson, who has written about circulation trends in major research libraries, said it's important to understand the distinction between storing books, as UA is doing, and withdrawing them. He said inconvenience will be "minimized" by the library's delivery schedule.

The university in a July description of the library changes stated that items checked out dropped by 68 percent over the past 10 years, falling to 30,765 in 2017 compared with 96,028 in 2007.

Based on circulation declines, UA's decision to move most print items into storage "seems like a completely reasonable move," Anderson said.

The petition, addressed to Chancellor Joe Steinmetz, was started by former UA librarian Jozef Laincz, who began the effort in his last week on the job. Three students who confirmed they had signed the petition also said they had received an email from Laincz asking them to sign the petition.

One of them, Victoria McDougal, a junior studying anthropology and Chinese, said in an email that after reading the July announcement from UA -- which noted that renovations are scheduled to begin in January -- she had changed her mind.

"I was worried that the physical books would be gone for good, but as long as I'm able to get my hands on the physical books and they are not gone for good I'll be okay with the renovations," McDougal said in an email.

Nelson, however, said he read up on the university's library plans before signing the petition. He stated in his petition comment that "many of the other proposed uses for the space seem like they could be better realized in other buildings or are altogether unnecessary," and asked UA "to slow down and think more carefully about their plans."

Among faculty members, Brett Sterling, an assistant professor of German, said in June that he had "concerns about the browsing ability in the library, the importance of that for research and teaching," but after attending a meeting that month where he heard librarians talk about crowded library study areas he said he "can live with" the changes.

Amy Schlesing, UA's executive director of strategic communications, said UA libraries "worked with representatives from across campus for many years to develop its plan," adding that it is "a similar plan to those of many other top university libraries."

Laura Jacobs, chief of staff for Steinmetz, said Steinmetz wants to listen to students' concerns but also "has confidence in the planning that led us to this decision and hopes that students and others will endeavor to learn more about the facts of the project."

Metro on 08/26/2018

Print Headline: Petition to 'save' library fills up


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