by Ross Connelly
HARDWICK – Books. Shelves and shelves of books. Rooms and rooms of shelves and shelves of books. Historically, such a place, often found on a college or university campus, is known as a library.
Plans are under way to rid the various campuses of the Vermont State College system, soon to be renamed the Vermont State University, of their libraries. To rid them of —see-on-a-shelf, pick-up-and-read, stumble-across-and be-drawn-in-curiosity-driven — real books, periodicals and other items, to be replaced by all digital access.
Perhaps, a thumb drive is a new definition of a library. Perhaps, upon enrolling, future students at Vermont State University will receive thumb drives containing the collections of the former libraries.
The new president of Vermont State University owns up as the author of the plan. He is also the person taking push-back.
One has to wonder whether he knew what he was getting into when he took the job? One has to wonder whether he knew he was getting set up to take the blame when the ship sinks?
The push-back should also be directed at the Vermont State Legislature, present and past. The Vermont State College system has been the long-floundering stepchild of higher education in this state.
The legislature ponied up tens of millions of dollars the past three years for the state colleges, and pledges more in the next few years. The campuses are still underfunded.
Thus, according to the university’s new president, cost cutting is mandated. So, the libraries get the axe, along with NCAA membership for athletic teams at Johnson.
Gutting libraries and dropping NCAA membership may save a little money in the short run. In the long run, however, that won’t solve the problem because costs will continue to rise, year after year after year. The ongoing need will remain until the Vermont State University receives ongoing, increased and adequate state support.
Imagine the reaction if the president of the University of Vermont announced he was going to get rid of its library? Imagine if the presidents of Norwich University, Middlebury College or Dartmouth College announced the collections in their libraries were going to be deep-sixed? Imagine if the director of the Library of Congress decided to take its vast collection, digitize it and then discard all those books that line its thousands of feet of shelves?
Hard to believe any of those in charge would see such change as “cutting edge,” leading the wave of the future for higher education. Hard not to believe they would be told to change their plans post haste or take the plans elsewhere, with no delay.
The current plan to revamp the Vermont State University is a continuation of the long-standing practice of maintaining a two-tiered system of higher education in Vermont: the flagship university gets the plums, the state college system gets what’s left of the squeezings.
From preschool to the graduate level, public education always has the task of “doing it on the cheap” or “doing it right.” Students, faculty and staff at the various locations of Vermont State University should not be relegated to “doing-it-on-the-cheap” campuses. The legislature needs to step up and fund education for a better society for all, not for some more than others.
[A Hardwick resident, Connelly is an avid reader and member of his town’s library Board of Trustees. He has undergraduate and graduate degrees from several universities, at which he spent many productive hours in their libraries and none of which are in or near Vermont.]