A 25-year plan would consolidate UW Madison’s 20 plus libraries — and renovate existing buildings in a way that consultants say would maximize space.
But some worry the changes could deteriorate the quality of research on campus.
The plan as it exists now would create more workspaces for students in Memorial library. It would also send 70 percent of the books there to an offsite location, likely in Verona.
Critics of the plan say losing that much of the stacks would deplete the university of a valuable source for research. Ullrich Langer, a UW Madison French professor says often, student and faculty research relies on being able to access a wide array of books quickly.
Plus, he and others rely on being able to physically browse and take a look at books to decide whether or not they’re relevant for their research.
“What we’re looking at is the core of humanities and arts and some social sciences collections being moved off site and losing access to the open stacks collection,” Langer says. “Much of our research depends on being able to get to books very quickly and being able to browse very extensively.”
UW-Madison has one of the largest book collections in North America, as well as one of the largest open stacks collections in the continent.
The proposal suggests moving about two million of the library’s three million books off site, says UW Vice Provost for Libraries Ed Van Gemert.
The books they would target would be mainly duplicate and foreign language copies. They’ll focus on books that see little to no use in the libraries, Van Gemert says.
He wants to flip the consultants recommendation and put a million out of the three million into storage.
“If we were able to remove duplicate titles and serial titles … and also some international documents, that’s a number that bumps into about a million volumes,” Van Gamert says.
But Langer says having the full collection on campus is invaluable. He and other researchers benefit from stumbling across books in the stacks — books they might not even know about or think to request from an offsite facility.
“If I have to order books and wait for a few days and wait for them to arrive … it’ll make everything much more difficult, and much less efficient,” Langer says. “It also means that I will miss a lot.”
Van Gamert says nothing’s a done deal yet, and he’s ready to work with those people worried about losing the stacks.
“How we actually design the next version of Memorial Library is dependent upon a lot of things,” Van Gamert says.
Langer will present at a panel discussion on Friday hosted by the Faculty Libraries Working Group. That group has a petition going around to save the stacks that has hundreds of signatures from students, faculty and staff asking the university of keep the stacks in place.