Thursday, May 1, 2008

Sympathy for the Contractors

The "re-location" process has hit its first major snag: the shift to the SE Pavillion is now scheduled for July 1, 2008. Furthermore, we now have official assurances that all resources of the reading room will be preserved. According to a memorandum:

"All reference materials now available to readers will be moved into the new space. Reference and curatorial services will remain exactly as they are now--provided by the same staff. There will be no interruption in service." (Our emphasis.)

Obviously, this is positive news. But our hearts and prayer go the contracts who must effect this change. For instance, here is a picture of *one* of the items that the new space will have to accommodate.

To say nothing of the shelves near the window, the shelves on the floor in the middle of the desks are longer than the diameter of the SE Pavilion. On an even more mundane note, take a look at this newspaper rack:

Will this even be able to fit in a room where the only wall space is sandwiched in between windows or tall doors?

Obviously, it's hard to determine these things with the naked eye. That's why we wish the contractors all the best. Keeping all the ERR's resources will be a very challenging feat. Some of us would even consider it an impossible feat and would recommend keeping ERR as the excellent resource that it is before it's too late.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Researchers?

The Library of Congress ostensibly received word on Friday, April 4th, about a protest in the European Reading Room. Perhaps this was the first time that so many quiet, respectable readers faced patrols in the middle of the day. The pictures below are definitely worth a thousand words. Considering that the former was taken at 4 p.m. on a Friday, one might surmise that the ERR has a pretty high degree of readership. In the meantime, Demolition Day is less than 2 weeks away. Any word yet about where we are going to put all those books?

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

A Bad April Fool's Joke??

European Reading Room staff were told mid-afternoon Tuesday that the Library has set May 1, 2008 as "Demolition Day" -- the demolition of the current European Reading Room will begin on that day for conversion to exhibition space.

The goal of the Library is to have the Southeast Pavilion ready as a functioning reading room by April 21, only thirteen working days from now. As of this afternoon, there was still no clear idea how equipping the new space as a reading room would be funded, much less actually implemented in fewer than three weeks.

Letters of concern and protest are critical now, especially to the Librarian of Congress (email:, or; fax 202-707-1714).

Thanks to everyone for their support.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Majority of None, Part II

This just in from a staff member on the proposed message about the staff being "quite happy" with the re-location to the SE Pavilion.

"We were disappointed and even angered to have these words put into our mouths. We are by no means "quite happy" with the situation. Yesterday, when shown an earlier draft of Marcum's statement, we strongly objected to the "quite happy" phrasing and urged it be changed. You can see the final result. If in fact the current RR is to be converted into exhibition
space -- a decision that is apparently final, we are told, we are resigned to that political reality;
given the two alternatives presented to us (moving to the SE Pavilion and retaining our identity as the European RR; moving into the Main Reading Room and losing our identity as a RR), most staff currently prefer the first option. Our first priority is and will remain providing the highest quality service possible to our readers, whether they are on-site in our reading room or virtual users."

"Thank you all for your support - we are very grateful."

A Majority of None

Members of the Coalition have received a message from Associate Librarian of Library Services Deanna Marcum, to the effect that the ERR staff is "very happy" with the "relocation" of the ERR. The truth is a bit more complex and much less happy than the message implies. The EURR staff has been pressured for several days by the administration to sign a statement, consistent with Marcum's claim. Please note that the staff has REFUSED to oblige and has not supported it. Marcum's statement speaks for a majority of none.

Chronicle of Higher Ed Citation

Scholars Question Library of Congress's Plan to Relocate a Reading Room

Researchers who use the European Reading Room at the Library of Congress are up in arms over rumors that it is about to be shut down to make way for exhibition space. They have begun a grass-roots campaign to urge concerned scholars to write protest letters.

Link here.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A One-Way Ticket to Nowhere

Library patrons report that construction workers appeared in the European Reading Room on Wednesday. No one was entirely sure why. To plan its destruction? The destructive urge is a creative one, and the quick pace of events creates more questions than it answers.

For instance, what about the theory that this room will be "re-located" back to the SE Pavilion? Before we even examine the notion, let's note that the proposed "re-location" will require a trans-valuation of the library's mission. Right now, the Library enables reading and research. There is also room for exhibits. By converting the research facilities into exhibit facilities and cramming the core activities into the equivalent of a corner office, the library will denigrate its own mission. Such a change will diminish the emphasis on reading in favor of looking, and cursory looking at that. This will amount to tourism of history rather than the real thing. The LC has higher values and should not trade them away for empty space.

Matters of principle aside, fundamental considerations seem to preclude the likelihood of "re-location." Here are some factors for consideration by all parties involved:

* Transparency: When WMATA intends to shut down a bus line, it announces the proposal in advance to riders and calls a public hearing to assess public support before undertaking action. This type of transparent procedure could have helped obviate the present controversy.

* Transition: No one appears to have a transition plan for the ERR. How long would this take? What guarantees would researchers have that it will return? What would happen to the researcher shelves in the meantime?

* Reference Collections: the SE Pavilion could not possibly accommodate the existing reference collections, even if bookshelves lined the walls up to the ceiling. What would happen to the reference collections? Would they all go back to Cataloging to be re-entered in the general system? How long would they be in transit and thus unavailable to researchers? If the Library were concerned about under-use of these materials, it would be extremely counter-productive to render them inaccessible for an unforeseen duration. Low availability of books in circulation has drawn Congressional ire:

* Seating: How many seats could actually fit into the SE Pavilion? The diameter of the room is not very wide. Accounting for lost square footage from newly-erected bookshelves and a staff desk, it would seem that only a few seats could be accommodated.

* Acoustics: the SE Pavilion currently is not separated from the ERR by a wall. Were the current ERR space to become a tourist-filled exhibition, the SE Pavilion would need a rather significant floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall sound barrier to create a quiet research environment. Construction of this does not seem feasible.

* Capital Outlay Expenditures: Refurbishing the SE Pavilion will no doubt require the purchase and customization of bookshelves, electrical and telecommunications infrastructure, as well as desks.Are funds allocated for this purpose in FY '08? If not, what process is needed to approve Capital Outlays? Does the Architect of the Capitol need to sign off on all plans? This could be an extremely lengthy process.

In light of these and other factors, "re-location" to the SE Pavilion seems extremely unlikely at all—and certainly unfeasible this year. Unfortunately, the presence of construction workers indicates that the process of "de-location" is already afoot. It looks like the ERR has a one-way ticket to nowhere.

Luckily, we are getting reports that scholarly associations, the media, and local embassies have picked up this story. Let's hope that they can investigate these factors more thoroughly. Cramming the Library's core activities into a corner is not a serious option. The European Reading Room needs to stay where it is. Period.