Library seeks to communicate with faculty

After a miscommunication over a decision to reduce St. Augustine’s book collection led to angry professors, library officials have since tried to clear up the miscue.

Faculty members from many St. John’s academic departments were upset when they discovered the library’s plan to remove a portion of books from the collection in preparation for St. Augustine’s summer renovations.

According to Dr. James Benson, dean of University Information Resources and Libraries, an e-mail was sent to out to faculty last December.

Many professors, however, claim they received little to no notice of these developments, a reason some believe is because the message was not sent out by a high library official. Benson attributed the mistake to a breakdown in communication.

“I can’t say that everyone realized the depth of the situation at the time,” he said. “I can’t say that everyone opened their messages.”

He added, “It is possible that [due to time constraints] some people may have been missed.”

University Librarian Theresa Maylone also said that the notices may have been inopportune.

“I think the timing of it wasn’t necessarily the best, as attention is not always focused just before the Christmas holiday,” she said. “There are lots of e-mails and lots of reasons why people wouldn’t pay particular attention to them.”

Since acknowledging the breakdown in communication with faculty members, library officials seem to have put the effort forward to get everyone on the same page.

Dr. Stephen Sicari, chair of the English Department, discussed his recent interactions with Maylone and Benson.

“We had a nice conversation about what their mandate was, how they approached the situation, and they fielded questions from the different department chairs. So it was a good meeting in that way,” Sicari said.

He went on to mention that a few days later, he was sent an e-mail requesting to consult with the English department on which periodicals the library should save.

“People are still upset over what has happened. That’s not going to go away,” Sicari continued. “However, I think people are glad that a channel of communication has been established.”

Benson said that he hopes the actions of the library are seen as in the best interest of St. John’s.

“We want people to understand that what we are doing is to try and create a better library that more effectively supports the curriculum of the University,” he said.

Sicari, however, said that he wishes books would not have to be exchanged in order to reach that goal.

“We want to see our collection grow, not get smaller,” Sicari said.

Maylone offered a second opinion.

“You can have a really fantastic collection of 25,000 books, and you can have a really rotten collection of 100,000 books,” she said. She added that by centering focus solely on obtaining the largest library compilation possible, it “is a difficult way to express the quality of a collection.”

Despite the concerns, faculty members have stressed that the library staff is not entirely at fault.

“I think the library has been put into a very difficult situation,” said English Professor Dr. Gregory Maertz, who has been very vocal on the library issue.

“It is rather unclear as to where the urgency [to renovate St. Augustine] came from, or the need for urgency.”

Sicari shared similar thoughts.

“I don’t understand the finances, what their pressures are, and how important it is to have user-friendly space,” he said. “To a faculty member, the books are the most important part of the library.”

He added, “But librarians see things in a broader way, so maybe we have to learn about how the library works too.” Maylone said she hopes that the current situation begins to be viewed on a larger scale.

“This is not an isolated occurrence for the library, and it is in the context of the master plan. And if we had our choice, we would have had a great deal of more time,” she said.

“But we also recognize that this is our chance to have the renovation and that if we don’t pay attention to the design and construction schedule that has been outlined, we will not have this opportunity again, and the conditions may be less favorable.”

One thing Sicari said would be beneficial for professors is a record of the books that have been removed from the library collection – an idea that he has discussed with the librarians.

“We’ve all asked for a list of the books that we used to have that are now sent away, and I think we are going to get that eventually,” Sicari said.

“When we get the list, we will see if there are things that we want to get back.”

Maertz also felt a list would be beneficial, and giving the professors a chance to check for “mistakes” would be helpful.

“If they had just done this from the beginning, then the controversy could have been avoided,” he said.

Certain books, Maertz said, could have been wrongly removed from the collection, especially given the library staff’s criteria for withdrawal.

“Whether a book has been checked out or not in the last five or 10 years is a totally irrelevant matter,” he said. “The collection exists as a record of academic research, and to just simply get rid of it undermines what we do as a faculty and what the students do.”

Overall, Maylone said she feels that this scenario, although controversial, will serve as a tool to strengthen communications between library staff and faculty.