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Changing Libraries — But Not Too Much

By Michael Gritzbach
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board.

The advent of the digital age has transformed our relationships with our common spaces, and the way those common spaces are constructed. One of the spaces most ubiquitous in the life of a college student — the campus library — is hardly immune from this trend. But the merits of updating libraries for the 21st century are questionable, and many consider such adjustments unnecessary, citing survey data that indicates students simply want a place to work quietly, access books, and print assignments.

The future of Harvard libraries must strike a balance between preserving its historic character and functions and the modernization that has been the hallmark of recent years. In 2017, Cabot Library was renovated with a more modern design and amenities. Just last fall the Smith Campus Center opened, offering plenty of new study spaces in a radically different style from the traditional library setting. And the University is showing no sign of slowing down — Houghton Library is currently undergoing renovations intended to increase accessibility.

We appreciate the Harvard Library system, and the many functions it serves at the University and in the wider academic world, first and foremost providing access to centuries of accumulated knowledge. That said, we understand that libraries may feel the need to implement technological updates in order to appeal to students. While doing so is an important part of ensuring libraries stay relevant, we hope the Harvard Library stays true to its original character.

To be certain, we believe providing free technological resources and makerspaces to students, as well as designing libraries for collaborative use, can be incredibly enriching to the Harvard experience. However, students should still learn how to search the archives and navigate Harvard libraries’ resources for research purposes. While some courses and concentrations already teach this skill, we believe that all students should have this knowledge. The Harvard Library ought to consider teaching students to use it more effectively, in part by extensively partnering with certain classes, beyond the basic lesson in using HOLLIS that College students receive as they complete their expository writing requirement. The Harvard Library is something we should all feel like we have ownership of, as a system and collection of documents that reflects the world around us.

Students may not be entirely aware of the role they can play in pursuit of that goal. Ensuring that Harvard Library’s extensive archives are as inclusive and representative as possible of diverse sources of knowledge and history is the work of the collective student body. Students can call for the library to add to its collection or expand its offerings and yield results, and the library system ought to encourage students to take such an active role. We appreciate the availability of librarians in this and all processes, and we hope that students take more advantage of their presence and willingness to engage.

The world is changing, and the way we access media and information continues to evolve. Harvard Library has certainly changed in some regards to accommodate this evolution, but it has not yet and never should abdicate its goal of providing the University and the world as a whole with the knowledge we need to understand our past and move towards a better future.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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