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Vermont State Colleges decision to alter library services raises hackles

Library bookshelves (file photo)
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Library bookshelves (file photo)

Changes to the Vermont State Colleges system’s athletics program and libraries announced last week are meeting fierce opposition.

On July 1st the Vermont State Colleges will become the Vermont State University. The system includes Community College of Vermont, Castleton University, Northern Vermont University — comprised of Johnson and Lyndon Colleges — and Vermont Technical College.

Among the strategic priorities outlined by president Dr. Parwinder Grewal is to become the nation’s first statewide hybrid college system in order to improve access and affordability.

But some changes are not sitting well with faculty and students.

Effective July 1st, all campuses will adopt an all-digital library system. Physical library spaces will become community commons, study or student services spaces. Book collections will be donated to the local communities. Public comment during Monday’s Board of Trustees’ Finance and Facilities Committeewas negative.

Castleton librarian Charlotte Gerstein noted that there have been a number of questions raised about the methodology of survey and circulation statistics used as a basis for the trustees’ decision.

“I think this is a really serious inflection point and a lot of our faculty will leave and a lot of our students are talking about transferring. And the other point I wanted to make: there’s all this additional funding from the Legislature for the transformation. I don’t think the legislators or the taxpayers imagined that they would give extra money to become diminished.”

Castleton student Brandon Burmeister says everyone he talks with is opposed to the decision.

“I’ve talked to so many students on campus and every single one of them thinks of it as a bad decision. I mean everyone’s worried about future departments being cut. I think we’re all kind of just scared now and frustrated. I mean from the financial side of it we’re not really seeing it make sense.”

President Grewal responded that the changes are intended to improve library services.

“We are making changes to enhance access to our library resources so that more and more people can access the library the way they want it and wherever they want to access it.”

Castleton Student Alison Fiske told trustees that an online-only library would actually stifle education.

“Some people this is their first exposure to different ideas from what they were raised in the community they’re coming from. And a lot of those ideas are discovered in the library. And that’s going to be taken away because it’s going to be a very specifically curated, this book is relevant to your degree so this is all you need to know. Where I don’t always know what book I need. I find it by looking down the aisles. And it’s a big concern for a lot of the students. And how is this going to be addressed?”

Castleton University Assistant Professor of Education Angela Sillars told trustees that their decision to create a digital-only library has repercussions beyond the campuses.

“I’m concerned about the signal that this is sending to every level of education from the infant room, preK, K-12, that books don’t matter. And so to be a part of that at an institution of higher learning is unconscionable.”

Castleton Biology Lab and Greenhouse Manager Mary Droege pleaded with the trustees to recognize the frustration, anger and emotions the decision has stirred on campuses.

“Don’t tell us not to worry. It’s too late for that. We’re super worried and we’re really upset and we’re really angry. And it’s potentially a catastrophic decision for our institutions. And I just respectfully ask you to respect that, engage with us and pause this decision.”

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