English Department May Cut Library Hours

The English Department is considering closing or reducing the hours of its departmental library on Widener’s third floor in an effort to cut departmental spending.

As the department finds itself still pressed for funds, members of the department are weighing whether the Child Memorial Library is worth approximately $28,000 in annual costs, according to English Department Chair W. James Simpson.

As of last month, library-goers are asked to sign in as part of the department’s efforts to collect information on the library’s use. “Once we get that at the end of the semester, we’ll take stock about how we can best deploy our own resources to keep that library open,” Simpson said, adding that he does not expect to have to close the library altogether.

This past Monday—a University-wide holiday—32 students had signed in over the course of the day. And as of yesterday afternoon, 11 students had signed into the library for the day.

Within the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, departments and centers administer more than 30 area-specific libraries separate from the school’s Harvard College Library—the largest unit in the University’s sprawling library system.

But as many of these FAS departments face continued pressure to reduce their expenditures, the libraries have been among the primary areas to fall under the budget-trimming scalpel.

In the year after the 2008 financial crisis, when departments were asked to trim as much as 15 percent of their budgets, some looked to possible extraneous spending on their libraries.

The History Department, for instance, eliminated the paid graduate student library position, leaving the library open to students asked to abide by an honor system not to remove the non-circulating books.

The Philosophy Department limited hours of operation for its library in Emerson Hall and temporarily reduced the number of new acquisitions.

“Like all departments we made dramatic cuts in our operating costs, and some of these cuts affected the library,” wrote Philosophy Department Chair Sean D. Kelly in an e-mail. He added, “That said, the library remains a vital resource to the Philosophy Department and to the Harvard community at large, and we have no plans to cut library hours further.”

Though the economic climate has improved, FAS still faces a deficit of $35 million, which FAS Dean Michael D. Smith has said he will work to clear by the summer of 2012.

The Child Memorial Library is just one of a limited number of departmental libraries that is still open to all students.

The library pays graduate students to check bags and ensure that none of the library’s books are removed.

Open Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. and for reduced hours over the weekend, the English department library houses an extensive, non-circulating collection of prominent and historic English texts including works in Old English.

But the carpeted room facing the center of Harvard Yard is also open as a study space, with tables and armchairs for student use.

—Staff writer Noah S. Rayman can be reached at nrayman@fas.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Elyssa A.L. Spitzer can be reached at spitzer@fas.harvard.edu.

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