1914 Library Committee determines need for changes

The 1914 Library Committee, formed in early March with the purpose of evaluating the 1914 Library as well as improving the textbook acquisition situation for students on financial aid at Williams, has reached the conclusion that the 1914 Library is no longer sufficient to satisfy need. As Roseman said, “With the increasing numbers of financial aid students and the increasing cost of books, it was clear that the current model of the 1914 Library was no longer acceptable.”

Among the issues the committee discussed were the fact that students were graduating without their own textbooks, lacked the resources necessary to study for MCATs, GREs and even higher level classes at the College, were not allowed to annotate books and were even selecting classes based on costs in some cases.

“1914 Library workers will tell you that students come in with book lists, and when they find out that their books aren’t available, will ask, ‘Well, what courses do you have books for?’” Roseman explained. “In examining the problems and potential solutions, it became apparent that a piecemeal approach wouldn’t solve anything.”

The main principle from which the committee is working is that all students need to be able to get the books they need in a timely fashion, regardless of a student’s individual financial situation – a goal that the 1914 Library is not currently fulfilling.

Since the College is committed to continuing its financial aid programs, the Library will likely have to deal with increased student demand in the future. “While [the 1914 Library] is a great idea conceptually, it’s causing problems in the equity of academic programming,” Roseman said.

With the goal in mind of simply getting books into students’ hands, Roseman said that the committees’ idea is to enable students to charge books from Water Street Books to their term bills using student ID cards.

“Depending on the student’s financial aid status, either financial aid comes in to cover the cost, or the books become part of the term bill that is paid over time,” Roseman explained. “No one has to come up with a large sum of money out of pocket.”

Such a change would require an increased collaboration with Water Street Books. If students were to charge books rather than acquire them from the 1914 Library, the volume of books at Water Street Books would need to increase.

According to Roseman, there is a meeting scheduled between the College and store’s management so that the Committee can present their proposed change in policy and begin to work with the bookstore.

The future of the financial aid book-buying system largely depends on to what extend Water Street Books is willing to accommodate a new system. “It is quite possible that the 1914 Library won’t exist in the future,” Roseman said. “Depending on what [Water Street Books] says, the 1914 could be a used book store – How do we take advantage of the 35,000 volumes it owns?”

In the future, the Committee hopes to implement other methods of reducing book costs, including educating faculty members about prices. “We want to send faculty members reports about what their courses cost, compared to other courses within their departments and to the rest of the College,” Roseman said. “Many faculty members don’t understand the impact of textbook costs on students. I never thought before this about what [the books I assign] cost.”

The Committee includes representatives from the 1914 Library staff, faculty from the Committee on Undergraduate Life (CUL), faculty from the Committee on Diversity and Community (CDC), as well as members of the Financial Aid Office, the Office of the Vice President for Strategic Planning and Diversity and both the Dean’s Office and Provost’s Office.

Four students – Alan Arias ’10, Diego Flores ’11, Elizabeth Jimenez ’12 and Kwame Poku ’11 – also serve on the Committee.

The Committee has met three times in the last few months. Due to time constraints, the Committee does not for see instituting any major changes for the upcoming semester. Roseman expressed hope that its plans would be implemented by the 2010-2011 academic year.

Additional reporting by Fiona Wilkes, staff writer.