By Christian Loeffler
Many library books have been removed and put in boxes for recycling, according to John Smetanka, vice president of academic affairs and academic dean.
This summer, there were books all along the back road behind the library, with some even spreading out as far as Dupre’s greenhouse. Multiple students have found books in the dumpsters and on the ground around these areas as well.
While one reason for this removal is the reconstruction of the library, Br. David Kelly, Latimer Family Library director, said the presence of mold was a factor in the removal of some books. Smetanka said that whole library shelves were “fused together” by mold.
Most of the books damaged were periodicals that did not receive much use, though Smetanka said that several of the books belonging to the English Department were damaged due to proximity to the periodicals.
Smetanka explained that when the library was renovated during Prep Hall’s construction in around 1996, preventative action against mold was taken, including the installation of a new air recycling system and ultraviolet lights to kill mold in the ventilation system.
Smetanka stated that they believed this renovation would solve the problem with mold, but it did not. Now, there’s a new mold solution.
“I believe having the new construction and having the whole [heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system] redone is going to solve the problem,” he said.
Mold prevention is even more vital with the artwork and rare book collections planned to be stored inside the library. Smetanka stated that the library will be regularly monitored for signs of mold in hopes that the issue does not reoccur.
In addition, Smetanka noted that the removal of books is part of the library renovation and new construction. He also explained that the library’s book collection had not been weeded for at least a decade, with some of the books not having been circulated in decades.
“The librarians and faculty […] went through each of the areas of the library and marked books to keep, to remove, or to move to individual faculty offices,” Smetanka stated.
He said part of the plan was to reduce the ecological footprint of the collection.
“There will be fewer [physical] books in the collection, but we’re going to raise the number of e-books and journals available,” he said, also stating that online resources are more current and will be more useful to undergraduates doing research projects.
Some campus members were surprised by the removal.
Junior biology major Alyssa Baker saw piles of books outside Dupre, on the ground and in a dumpster, and characterized it as “bittersweet.”
“It’s understandable that not everything can be kept, and this opens up room for more, but some of those texts had a lot of years behind them,” she said. “It would be nice to see them taken to new homes or turned into art instead of being thrown out. That’s not really any good for anybody,” Baker said.
Fr. Maurus Mount, who is an assistant professor from the monastery and studies the history of languages and texts as a philologist, said he has taken books from a dumpster.
"I heard about the dumpster full of books and my curiosity was piqued,” he said. “I just hated to see books at any kind of waste.”
According to Mount, some books were thrown out by mistake, including a book of Christian historical significance that he had intended to keep. Mount shared that he was glad to have retrieved this book and explained that it was part of a two-volume collection worth 500 dollars on some websites.
Mount, who often relies on online sources in his work, expressed caution over the use of online databases, which can be expensive. Free online sources may be “free for now,” he said, but online services may not always remain free, suggesting risks and hidden costs of removing the physical collection.
Mount encourages students to read books and become acquainted with the library.
"If there is any sense that books are passé, it's because students don't use them,” he said. “The library has been one of the most underappreciated treasures on campus.”
Libraries better promote the ideals of a liberal arts education more so than the sole use of Internet sources, he said.
"The purpose of a liberal arts education is to make you free so you can find out things for yourself, to teach you how to do research, and to find the truth without having to be held under the tyranny of public opinion or of what just anyone will tell you," he said.
Looking forward, Mount explained that he has been in contact with Kelly about book removal options, who expressed a desire to hear removal alternatives from members of the community.