SJU should get its priorities straight

St. John’s outdid itself last week and made an administrative move infuriatingly representative of the endemic de-academicization plaguing our University, a move desecrating the symbol of most real universities’ source of power, of knowledge: our library. The school is to be removing what I assume to be at least hundreds (but probably thousands) of books from the intellectual center of our University in order to build temporary offices. Yes, offices – temporary ones; as if we need more of those.

Don’t get me wrong-I love my faculty and want them to be in the best facilities possible. They do amazing work and deserve every perk and penny they receive. But, seriously, do these offices really need to be put in the library? Do we not have space anywhere else on campus?

As an English major, one of the most basic skills you learn is to identify metaphor and symbolism. I’m not sure if it’s just me, but I feel one brewing here that I’d like to explore for a bit.
The situation, at its core, can be summed up like so: St. John’s is removing books to make room for offices. This is not an isolated incident.

It is a metaphor for and an example of a severe decline in emphasis on education and, frankly, a tragic instance of how the administration cares more about St. John’s as a business than as a school. I understand that it is important for the school to make itself as attractive as possible for potential professors and that the administration has a responsibility to look after the school’s financial well being, but this decision is, even business-wise, myopic.

Reportedly, the decision was based on several factors. First, that it would cost more to put books in temporary storage than it would to buy new versions of them once the renovations being done are complete. Second, that online resources will eventually compensate for the loss; and third, that the library was long overdue for this “weeding” anyway.

As an employee of the Writing Center, I have had the privilege of assisting professors in salvaging some of the books marked for eradication. At random, I looked inside the covers of a few of them. There were first edition Victorian periodicals published in 1884, brand new art books published in 2004, and beautiful atlases drawn by Russian and Chinese artists, just to name a few. Does the University honestly expect us to believe that repurchasing 200-year-old books costs less than temporarily storing them? I, for one, find it difficult to do so.

I love using the Internet to do my research; in fact, I prefer it to using paper. I am, however, realistic. It’s clear that our online resources are still sorely limited. We’re simply not ready, as an academic community, to stop relying on our physical libraries as our main source of information. I can’t wait until computers replace physical libraries altogether, but we’re just not in that place yet.

Until then, St. John’s should forget about temporary offices, forget about short-term financial benefits, and forget about JSTOR replacing real books. Start considering the welfare of students, the will of professors, and the school’s reputation.

There is a reason that more than 12,000 accepted students decline enrollment every year. I don’t think taking books out of the one place left for them will help that statistic. Start raising standards, start putting school back into school, and start reenergizing our academic community. Get your priorities in order.