Students returning to St. John’s this fall can look forward to one very special welcome-back surprise. No, not sweatshirts or T-shirts, not lunchboxes or umbrellas. And no, not a new St. John’s laptop battery.
Instead, students will be treated to a much bigger surprise: a crippled library, with only one floor open to the public.
The problems came around June of this past summer, when St. John’s ambitious renovation plans for St. Augustine Hall hit a roadblock.
According to University Librarian Theresa Maylone, risers – pipes that run water up and down the structure to provide air conditioning – leaked and flooded various parts of the building. She speculated that the vibrations from the construction on the third and fourth floor were most likely responsible for the massive inconvenience.
But over the last two semesters, various members of the library staff have explained to me that St. Augustine Hall has been in dire need of repairs for a while now. Most notably, I’ve heard from some staff members that leaking and minor flooding has been plaguing the library for years.
So, was the summer flooding an unfortunate accident, or something that could have, and should have, been avoided? Judging from what I’ve heard, I’d go with the latter.
While speaking with librarians and administrators last semester, the Torch learned that the planned summer remodeling is the first large-scale renovation the library has ever had in its over 40-year history.
That’s a long time to go without making necessary, large-scale changes. And, given that the pipes have had leaking problems in the past, it seems like it was an unwise move to refurbish the upper floors of St. Augustine before adequately fixing the air conditioning pipes.
As a result of the flooding, most of the library will be inaccessible to students until around mid-October, according to Maylone.
“Right this moment, none [of the floors] are functioning, but most of the first floor was restored this past weekend,” Maylone told me.
The library will be reduced to only a service desk in the academic commons, where students can request books that librarians can retrieve from the closed stacks. Also, areas have been set up around campus to provide for quiet study.
I respect the librarians’ efforts to provide quality services to students, despite the library being closed off. But there’s something unnerving about attending a school with library stacks that are closed off to its students.
Granted, it will only last half a semester, but that’s enough time to disrupt many students’ typical daily schedules, and even dissuade some from going to the library at all.
The problems with the library construction, though, started much earlier than this past summer. The entire project got off to a shaky start last semester when the library found itself under a quick deadline to remove a significant portion of its books to make room for the renovations.
Around March, professors caught wind of the library’s need to remove books and began complaining that they had not been adequately informed that the process had begun.
As English professor Dr. Gregory Maertz told me, “This is not a faculty versus library thing. This is a faculty who was perplexed.”
Both library problems – the flooding and the need to remove books quickly – seem to be the result of St. John’s desire to finish its construction as quickly as possible.
With a little more time, the risers could have been fixed properly before the major construction took place. With a little more time, the library staff and faculty could have deliberated more over which books should have been discarded.
But now, with the semester just beginning, the timing could not have been worse.