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Sugar Coating Wears Thin

Gov Docs relocation would be a budgetary move that hurts students, not a Lamont gain

By The CRIMSON Staff

Lamont Library may soon receive an unnecessary facelift—Harvard College Library (HCL) plans to spend some $1 million on substantial changes to the undergraduate scholar’s favorite locale. Among the proposed changes include a relocation of the well-loved third-floor reading room to the fifth floor in order to convert that entrance level space into a new media center. This move has been in the air for some time now, and age has not improved the lackluster impression it gives—that it is a waste of resources. But another bad idea is surely also providing plenty of water-cooler conversation among HCL’s management. Some library administrators want to move the Government Documents Collection (Gov Docs)—the research and statistic hub utilized by social science students, currently located in the basement of Lamont—to Littauer Hall, a building in the North Yard.

HCL has spun the proposed change as motivated by concern for students. That would be nice, but experience has taught Harvard’s undergraduates to be wary of cost-cutting moves disguised as reactions to student woes. In the recently announced shrinking of Hilles Library, HCL is planning for a comprehensive reimagining of the building for student group use. For Lamont, administrators have offered an unimpressive suggestion of some sort of student cafe—even more unnecessary with the Barker Center’s rotunda cafe literally across the street—to replace the highly utilized Gov Docs. What may be palatable in Hilles tastes sour nearer to the river.

It is difficult to see this proposed measure as anything more than an easy way to shave costs—at the expense of students—from HCL, which is projecting a $3 million deficit over the next two years. A Gov Docs housed in Littauer, whose library is open for significantly fewer hours each week, would allow HCL to lay off staff.

Some proponents of the move claim that Gov Docs sees much of its use from non-undergraduate clients—housing public records, the collection must be open to the general public. But a current research librarian for the collection attests that some 90 percent of his clients are indeed undergraduates. Since Gov Docs provides research materials on national data, students from various social science departments use it as a resource. With usage studies seemingly out of date, and without direct consultation with students, HCL’s push to move Gov Docs seems to have little student interest motivation. In fact, the plan actually weakens the service Lamont Library offers to undergraduates by removing the resource out of the heart of the undergraduate library system.

To truly improve Lamont’s student services, HCL must research what students want out of their primary undergraduate library. As it stands, however, the proposed move of Gov Docs is simply a sugar-coated plan that will not go down easy.

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