At what price out books? Many of the books printed on "acid paper" in the 19th and early 20th centuries that are housed in Widener library are decaying due to the lack of climate control in the library. According to Harvard College Librarian Nancy Cline, "We're baking those books.... We're not providing [the books] the proper level of stewardship."
We are very concerned about the "acid paper problem," as Widener's current predicament is often referred to, because every book that is left to turn into dust represents a piece of lost heritage that will never be recaptured.
The acid paper problem is not new. Scholars and librarians have known for years that the poor quality with which books were printed for much of the last two centuries would eventually leave us with a heap of dust. The question now is what to do about it.
Yale University has nearly finished its $45 million renovation plan of its main library, Sterling. The plan was instituted in November 1995 after a burst pipe destroyed many of Sterling's precious books. The Library of Congress and the New York Public Library both have climate control systems. We believe that Harvard should catch up with the times and give its books the proper care they deserve.
It will cost $28 million to renovate Widener and equip it with the proper climate control system. But to date, the University has not raised any of this needed money. Administrators, including President Neil L. Rudenstine, recognize the problem and have vowed to fix it. Rudenstine said: "We'll find away because it has to be done."
We realize that the University cannot raise $28 million out of thin air, but it picks and chooses where it spends its money very carefully, and if something is necessary, the money can be found. Therefore, we recommend that the administration put its money where its mouth is, step up to the plate and act before Widener begins selling its books as confetti.