After four years of hit-and-run contact, the sum total that most undergraduates know about Widener is that they must climb sixty-nine steps, pass by the controversial Sargent murals, and wait twenty minutes before they can get a book. Beyond this shallow depth of bibliophilistic comprehension they have seldom waded. The time is long overdue when students should realize what the library does for Harvard education, and what, ultimately, it might do to enhance that education.
The primary fact which must be grasped in any discussion of a library, university libraries especially, is that it is a service institution. It exists solely to satisfy the needs and the desires of the University members, who range from timid freshmen to octogenarian professors. Yet the source of a university library's existence is also the source of its undoing. For the library staff must solve the problem of serving distinctly separate portions of that membership whose interests are as widely divergent as those of the freshman and the professor.
Unfortunately, the library is heavily biased in favor of the graduate student. And this bias springs from only one thing: Widener's tremendous size. It is this great hulk that is stifling to undergraduates. Among the four million volumes which comprise the Harvard Library, only one hundred thousand books interest them. Yet these very books in demand are hidden away among innumerable tomes which contain the last printed word on any subject. Graduate students have access to the book stacks; they have stalls placed right where the books they need are shelved; now there is even a bathroom in the stacks so graduate students do not have to walk to the basement like other library users. Thus the graduate benefits at the expense of the undergraduate.
Then, too, the great number of books in Widener requires a complicated catalogue. This unwieldy file is a great, black plague to the undergraduate. He is forced to wait a long while before the books he desires can be dug from the stacks. In other words, he, unlike the graduate student, cannot get the books he wants when he wants to. And since only advanced students and teachers can get stack permits, Widener's size, which is its blessing, has also proved to be its burden. Clearly the graduate student has the weighted side of the scales.
If the library is to serve the University to the best of its capacity, it must, therefore, more nearly cater to the requirements of the College members, who, today, are sadly neglected. There are two solutions to more evenly balance the conflicting interests. One is to keep the library open longer hours. The other is to separately house a collection of books solely for undergraduates. These possibilities will be discussed in later editorials.