Dish collection in Sawyer to promote dining sustainability, library cleanliness

Two weeks ago, Sawyer Library unveiled a new method of collecting dishes students bring into the library from the dining halls.

Dish collection bins parked on each level of Sawyer library are emptied and cleaned daily.
Dish collection bins parked on each level of Sawyer library are emptied and cleaned daily. Photo courtesy of Sue Galli.

This is a service that will both promote a cleaner library space and address sustainability concerns put forth by Dining Services in regards to dishes that are left behind or thrown away in the library. The library has issued and placed five collection containers, one on each level of the building near the entrances to each floor and adjacent to the recycling and garbage containers.

The hope is that students will drop off their dishes and green reusable containers on their way out of the library instead of leaving them on a carrel top or in between shelves and window ledges. Dining Services will pick up the containers and wash the dishes daily.

The project has been in motion since last spring and has been spearheaded by Jo-Ann Irace, head of access services, and Sue Galli, library administrator. Head Librarian Dave Pilachowski was also involved in the proposal. “[The issue] was on my radar last spring when I went looking for something in the stacks and realized the amount of dishes and garbage in the library. That’s when [the idea] started,” Irace said.

“We started working with Dining Services, trying to find what would be the best solution,” Galli said. The library staff began to take pictures of the garbage in carrels and shelves and compiled a slideshow to present to Bob Volpi, head of Dining Services, and Chris Abayasinghe, assistant director of student dining.

Sustainability was an important concern for both the library and Dining Services, as a large number of dishes left in study spaces were being discarded by students or custodians trying to clean up the carrel areas. “Dining Services was losing a significant [number] of plates and green containers,” Galli said.

Galli and Irace credited Lisa D’Angelo, administrative assistant, with the idea of a container for Dining Services returnables. Mike Noyes, a painter in the carpentry shop, designed the cover of the containers. “From there on, we just fed off of that and one thing lead to another,” Galli said. “With the support of Dining Services, custodians and facilities, we now have five collection containers.”

One of the major issues surrounding an unclean library space is the threat of an infestation of insects or rodents. If discarded dishes or food were to rot or become infested, many literary collections and other important library materials run the risk of being compromised or destroyed. “[Students] may not realize how harmful garbage in the library is if it contributes to any type of insect infestation,” Irace said. “This is one of the main reasons why most libraries don’t allow food.” Irace noted that the library has not had an outbreak of any kind to date, but with a continuation of garbage and dishes piling up in the library, “it definitely could be a very serious issue,” she said.

Both Irace and Galli stressed that allowing students to eat in the library is a privilege that the College’s libraries wish to uphold. “We are always striving for students to feel comfortable in the library, but on the other hand, we’re also concerned,” Irace said. “We want to be able to continue this tradition but not at the risk of [damaging] the collections.”

So far, the library staff has been pleased with the results of the collection containers. “I was walking through the library this week, and I didn’t find any dirty dishes,” Irace said. However, the true test of the efficiency for this program will be at the end of the semester during finals period, when the library will see higher student traffic for prolonged periods. “For now, it seems like it’s working,” Irace said.

The staff hopes to create more publicity for the containers. Currently there is a notice on the electronic display in the lobby of Sawyer and there are posters on doors and entry ways encouraging students to use the containers. If the program proves to be a success, the hope is for the containers to be expanded across the library and possibly throughout campus in other buildings where similar dish and sustainability issues are prevalent.

“We’ve waited a while for this and are very happy to get it up and running,” Galli said. “We’re always just looking in the containers and smiling. We’re just delighted to see it.”