2010-02-04 / Local & State

College Students Upset About Long-Locked Library


OXFORD, Pa. (AP) – In her nearly three years at Lincoln University, Amelia Sherwood has only been able to access the campus library for a few months.

The junior education major has done most of her studying in a computer lab since the Langston Hughes Memorial Library closed in 2008 for $17 million in renovations. The building, surrounded completely by a chain-link fence, is not scheduled to reopen until 2011.

“It looks like it’s in a jail,” Sherwood said of the library. “They’ve locked up learning.”

Officials at Lincoln, a quasipublic university outside Philadelphia, say their hands are tied by state bureaucracy and funding delays. In the meantime, the historically black school has set up a temporary facility in modular trailers, with librarians’ offices, study space, computer rooms and a circulation desk; students can request books from the main library and receive them within a day.

“Everything the students need, except the grandeur of the large library, is available,” said Grant D. Venerable II, vice president for academic affairs.

Ed Myslewicz, spokesman for the state agency overseeing the project, said the Department of General Services is “doing as much work as we can with the money that we have available.”

“As with any construction project that involves an existing building, there will be some short-term inconvenience for what will be a long-lasting improvement,” said Myslewicz.

Lack of funds meant the renovations had to be done in two phases, he said. The first part – heating, air conditioning, plumbing, wiring and handicapped accessibility – was finished about a year ago; for logistical and safety reasons, it made sense to keep the building closed until new money became available for further interior and exterior changes, he said.

Sociology professor Robert Millette said the renovations should have been better planned.

“It’s affecting the learning process not to have a library,” Millette said. “If we have to borrow the money, let’s go borrow the money. That’s the heart of the university.”

Lori Goetsch, president of the Association of College and Research Libraries, agreed that three-and-a-half years is “a long time” for the library to be closed.

Though Lincoln’s temporary library set-up is fairly typical, such arrangements are generally only needed for six months to a year, Goetsch said. And even though much research today is done on computers, she said, Lincoln students are losing access to group study space and “the culture of the library.”

“It’s a place where people can explore ideas ... investigate whatever they want and read whatever they want,” said Goetsch.

Alicia C. Beach, 21, a Lincoln senior, was last able to use the library in the fall of her sophomore year. She described it as “cozy” and “inviting,” a place where she could settle in to study – unlike the temporary facility, where the computer rooms are frequently reserved for classes, limiting their use by drop-in students. She mostly studies in her room.

“I don’t really feel comfortable in the modules,” Beach said. “I kind of feel rushed to do the work.”

Sherwood said the best solution would be for Lincoln, which has about 2,000 undergraduates, to build a culture of philanthropy among alumni so it wouldn’t have to rely on state money for big projects.

During her first semester as a freshman, Sherwood would go every day to the library named for Hughes, a poet and 1929 Lincoln alumnus, where she said the atmosphere and presence of books made it feel “scholarly.”

“You just felt that Langston Hughes was there,” said Sherwood.

But as she walked through the single, barren hallway of the temporary facility, Sherwood said, “You would never know this is a library.”

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