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Student groups that must constantly grapple with the problem of space—or, more precisely, the lack thereof—seem to have found an amenable administration as of late. When University Hall officials recently announced plans to gut and renovate Hilles—leaving only one floor as library space—those in student activities appeared to have had their wish granted. Fifty thousand square feet of the upper levels of Hilles will be converted into usable space, which could certainly be beneficial to the entire gamut of student organizations, possibly in the form of student offices. But, any euphoria over the administration’s new decision should be tempered by the cost of these proposed renovations.
Although administrators have pledged to relocate many of Hilles’ library employees, the books may face a more ominous fate. A large portion of the estimated 208,000 volumes that currently reside within Hilles’ confines may be eliminated from the Harvard College Library (HCL) collection as the ability to sustain Hilles’ duplications—much of the collection is found elsewhere among HCL’s eleven libraries—proves too great a budgetary burden.
However, the importance of possessing duplicate copies of library material seems obvious and it’s unfortunate that administrators are willing to lose a great number of books. It isn’t rare to find that some desperately needed book is checked-out as multiple students seek the same text.
Alas, the books will not be the only casualties of this revamping. Ostensibly, one purpose of Hilles is to further assuage Quad students’ fears of feeling disadvantaged or marooned by their removed housing; yet, they will invariably suffer as library resources are driven even further from their fingertips.
On its website, Hilles library claims that it “works jointly with Lamont on course reserves, supporting many of the same courses, so that Quad residents have nearby access to materials.” However, this will no longer be the case. Instead, Quad residents will have to trudge to Lamont for materials—which, of course, they may not find readily available, as duplications will have already perished. Quad students will have to trudge back home—quite possibly on one of those icy Cambridge nights—frustrated and bookless. This hardly seems fair.
But, the administration claims that Hilles’ library is already underused, therefore the loss of resources for the Quad may not be as significant as one might think. But perhaps the administration ought to consider the reason for its limited usage: the library’s current design incorporates a considerable amount of open space that could be better utilized.
Ideally, Hilles should house a comfortable reading room, like the one in Lamont, which will attract students and prompt them to take advantage of the library’s resources. If the book collection were to be centralized into “stacks” on one floor, to make better use of Hilles’ vast square-footage, the books would be able to remain in the Quad as well as open up precious space to be used by student groups.
Before the administration decides the fate of Hilles, they should first consult students—especially representatives from the Quad—to consider how to improve the building. The library’s perimeter-style design could be much better organized to benefit Quad students and the multitude of student groups that are in dire need of space.
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