UST’s Doherty Library is undergoing a massive technology-led renovation, converting books to digital, online versions, and repurposing the rooms to allow more meeting and studying spaces, according to UST Dean of Libraries Jim Piccininni.
More than half of the library’s physical books have already been removed to an off-campus storage location, and can only be accessed through a book request system that can take up to two days to fulfill. According to a UST website dedicated to the “Future Vision of the Doherty Library and Book Moves,” those books will remain off-campus for at least three years.
“The intent is to eventually bring the books back to Doherty, but this depends upon whether or not a decision will be made to expand the Doherty Library building” the website reads.
The storage location is two miles away from the library, and already holds all books from G through Z, according to Doherty’s Head of Circulation Supervisor Sylvia Coy.
Meanwhile, the library is working to obtain digital copies of its books and magazines.
“The virtual library [will] offer enhanced accessibility to resources and provide flexibility for students to utilize the library whenever, and from wherever, they choose,” Piccininni wrote in an email to the Independent.
“It frees the physical library from the limitations of a brick-and- mortar-facility and in many ways releases the library from the constraints of library hours.”
Piccininni said he first suggested the renovation to UST President Richard Ludwick in 2018. It was scheduled to take place over several years, but when the pandemic hit and campus emptied, that timeline was accelerated. Changes began last semester and continued during the winter break.
According to Coy, student reactions so far have been mixed but mostly negative.
“People don’t like change, and because the [library] basement and second floor can’t be used right now as we wait for the carpenting to come in, the renovation is at a point now where it’s an inconvenience,” Coy said.
UST junior biology major Stacey Spencer visits Doherty Library almost every other day to study and work, and said she believes that the shift to a technology-based environment is happening very abruptly.
“We were not told that the library was going to go through a digital change so soon and so suddenly,” Spencer told the Independent last semester.
Spencer said she agrees that technological innovation may be needed in a society where everything is quickly turning digital, but suddenly not having immediate access to physical books is a major, upsetting change.
“I know that a lot of professors were not informed that this [renovation] was happening,” Spencer said. “I asked my professor about [the renovation], and he didn’t know about it.”
According to Piccininni, students and faculty were asked for their thoughts and opinions regarding the renovation in the past, but because of the unexpected impact of the pandemic, it was decided to move the books to storage.
Furthermore, the University administration deemed the need for socially distanced seating crucial, and established Doherty Library as the right location for such seating when the pandemic hit, he wrote in another email.
“Keep in mind that the renovation is a dynamic process open to modifications implemented as a result of input from students and faculty,” Piccininni wrote.
“This is why a survey was sent out in February to all students, faculty and staff asking for their comments and insights about the library’s future.”
According to the library’s website there will be further “upcoming opportunities” for the University’s community to express their thoughts on the renovation as the process continues. This is preceded by a statement acknowledging that the pandemic did not allow for a “typical community forum” to answer all the concerns related to re-purposing the library’s space.
The sudden transition has made it more difficult for students who attend in-person classes or rely on the library for work and study to take advantage of the library’s resources during the past fall semester, according to Spencer.
Meanwhile, she noted, many students studying at home are completely unaware of the new system.
“I just think they should have done this [renovation] during the summer instead of in the middle of a semester,” Spencer said.
Sophomore international studies major Dorothea Jacoby described her opposition to the book removal in an email to Piccininni that she shared with the Independent, stating that current available study spaces in the library were never full anyway, making the addition of more study spaces a “waste of effort.”
“The fact that they moved over two-thirds of the books to an off-campus warehouse isn’t that great,” Jacoby wrote on the stthom app.
“Because now you have to know exactly what book you want to request, and you can no longer just browse a section to help you narrow down your search and find books you would have never thought of.”
Jacoby said she used to spend hours a day looking through all the different bookshelves, and appreciated the vast collection of older editions Doherty had to offer.
Coy, however, said the relocation of books will not only allow for more community study space in the library, but also for a chance to reupholster the lounge chairs, replace the carpeting and solve the issue of the slow-running Wi-Fi.
“I have heard [school officials] have said that they want the library to be the strongest hub for internet on campus, and with the books out, it would supposedly allow for better signal around the area,” Coy said.
Coy says the library already offers a small amount of e-books, but that the project’s main goal is to increase the number of available online texts.
Nonetheless, Coy said obtaining access to electronic scholarly journals and textbooks is a challenge.
“I had no idea how expensive this would be, but for example, some journals such as Times Magazine aren’t all available for sale in their complete set in one place,” Coy said.
“These books and archives are taken from so many different places, which takes a lot of time and payment, but it is also text that we need for things like nursing and the engineering department.”
If a student wants a physical book that is in storage, he or she needs to send a request by filling out the Books-to-Go form on the library’s website.
After receiving a request, a librarian would drive to the storage location, pick up the book, and have it ready for the student within two days.
“I usually only have around two requests, so I would have to drive about two miles to the storage and back,” Coy said.
The University is continuing the renovation during the spring semester.
“If it attracts more students, then it’s OK, but I just miss having a physical book in my hands, where I can actually turn the pages,” Spencer said.